Rey, Margret (Elizabeth Waldstein), 1906-1996.
With her late husband, H.A. Rey, Margret created the inquisitive monkey
prone to finding trouble. There are 35 Curious George books, including
Curious George, Curious George Flies a Kite and Curious George
Goes to the Hospital, and more than 20 million copies of them have
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Biography of Margret E. Rey
The first of the Curious George books, the well-known series about a mischievous monkey, was originally published in 1942. However, part of him was born on May 16, 1906 in Hamburg, Germany - the day his co-creator Margret Rey was born.
Born Margret Elizabeth Waldstein, the daughter of a prominent member of the German Parliament, Curious George's future creator was born into a wealthy home, which held five children and four servants. Margret had a deep appreciation for the arts, and started taking formal art training at the Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany in 1927 (Greenville). She also took art courses at the Dusseldorf Academy of Art and the University of Munich. During her time at the University, she held shows of her watercolor works in Berlin.
Margret took on a job as a reporter and advertising copywriter in Berlin in 1928. It was a position that took her around the work to places such as London and Rio de Janeiro. It was in Rio in 1935 that she reunited with a former boyfriend of her older sister, H.A. Rey. The relationship soon blossomed into love, and they married that year. They honeymooned in Europe and settled in Paris, France in 1936 (Greenville). In Paris the Reys began new careers. Margret took on freelance writing, while H.A. sold illustrations to different French publications. The Reys also started creating their own children's book on the side. One of the books, Raffi and the Nine Monkeys, held the prototype for a monkey who would one day become Curious George.
In June of 1940, the Reys were forced to leave France because of the advancing armies of the Third Reich. Rey was cited as saying "... On a rainy morning before dawn, a few hours before the Nazis entered, we left Paris on bicycles, with nothing but warm coats and our manuscripts (Curious George among them) tied to the baggage racks and started peddling south" (Something About the Author Vol. 26). Eventually they made it to America, where they decided to settle in Greenwich Village in New York City.
The Reys began submitting some of their manuscripts to various publishers. Houghton Mifflin bought the publication rights to Curious George, "a book about a trouble-prone money who wreaks havoc due to his curiosity" (Greenville). Six more books were created by the Reys over the next 25 years. The earlier books do not mention Margret's name because their publisher thought they would sell better written by a man since the children's book field was mainly dominated by women. Later, both of the Reys took credit for the creation of the book series.
Curious George has become one of the most beloved stories of our time, selling 20 million copies in 12 languages. "In addition to the seven original Curious George titles, Margret created 28 other Curious George adventures with Alan J. Shalleck" (Greenville). "She also published five other books, including Spotty and Pretzel" (Greenville). The Reys became citizens of the United States in 1946, and after 42 years of marriage, H.A. Rey died on August 26, 1977. The Reys received many accolades for their work with the Curious George series, including being among the New York Times Choice of Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year in 1957 and Curious George Goes to the Hospital received a special citation form the Child Study Children's Book Committee at Bank Street College in 1966 (Children's Literature Review).
After her husbands death, Margret wanted to continue with her career. In 1979, she took a job with Brandeis University as a Creative Writing Professor. "She also oversaw a Curious George merchandising program with over 50 licenses for products," (Greenville). After reaching the age of 90, Margret gave one million dollars to The Boston Public Library to improve its Children's Rooms. She also gave one million dollars to the Beth Israel Hospital to use toward the study of nontraditional medicine. Margret died on December 21, 1996 at the age of 90 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
It's a wonder that after bringing smiles and laughter to millions of children around the world that Margret Rey never had a child of her own. One would argue however, that figuratively speaking, she did have a child. A child that she put all of her love and compassion into, and then shared with the world. His name is Curious George.
Commire, Anne. ed. Margret Elizabeth Rey, 1906. Something About the Author. Vol. 26. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1982.
Curious George Creator Margret E. Rey Dies at 90, South Coast Today. 9 September 2002. <http://www.s-t.com/dailyl/12-96/12-23-96/do3ae091.htm>
Margret and Hans Augusto Rey Papers, USM de Grummond Collections. 11 September. <www.lib.usm.edu/~degrum/findaids/rey.htm.>
Margret E. Rey, 1906-1996, The World Of Curious George. 5 September 2002.
Picture Books Author of the Month. Greenville Public Library. 10 September 2002
Senick, Gerard J., Ed. H.A. Rey and Margret Rey. Children's Literature Review. Vol. 5. Detroit, Michigan: Gale Research Company, 1983.