Friday, July 29, 2016

MONKEY BUSINESS: The Story of George's Curious Creators - Hans & Margret Rey

Curious George has been a part of my life as long as I can remember.  The stories of this mischievous monkey were one of my favorite bedtime stories when I was young and now that I'm a parent the book holds an important spot on my children's bookshelf because my kids love the adventures of Curious George just as much as I did at their age.  I've looked at the covers and flipped through the pages of Curious George books more times than I can count, but I honestly couldn't tell you anything about his creators Hans and Margret Rey.  An upcoming film maker named Ema Ryan Yamazki thinks that it is a shame that so many people enjoy the adventures of George but know so little about the remarkable lives of the husband and wife creative duo who created the children's books featuring the curious little monkey so she is creating a documentary telling the story of Hans and Margret Rey.

To help share Hans and Margret Rey's story with the world, Yamazki is asking for help in financing the completion of her documentary, MONKEY BUSINESS, through a KICKSTARTER campaign. In addition to helping fund a wonderful documentary, supporters of the campaign also will receive thank you gifts depending on their level of contribution that include timeless original Hans Rey prints on items ranging from t-shirts, tote bags and coffee mugs to Curious George inspired kites and beach balls.  Whether you can contribute $5 or $5,000 every dollar helps in bringing this documentary to fruition.

Hans was living in Paris, France with his wife Margret in the late 1930s working as a cartoonist for a newspaper.  A publisher enjoyed Hans' cartoons of wild animals and asked him to create a children's book featuring them.  While the book that resulted Raffy and the Nine Monkeys wasn't very successful it did prompt Margret to begin working with Hans on a standalone book featuring one of its mischievous monkeys named Curious George.  The Reys had just finished their manuscript for Curious George which involved Margret writing the text and Hans providing the illustrations, when the Nazis invaded France.

As German Jews living in Paris, the Reys knew they were in danger if they stayed in France.  Hans cobbled together two bicycles from spare parts and on the morning of June 14, 1940 the Reys fled the city with only warm coats, some food, and the manuscript for Curious George.  The Nazi army entered Paris just a few hours after Hans and Margret had departed heading to Spain.  Making their way to Brazil, they founded Rio de Janeiro's first advertising agency and also had Curious George published in 1941.

The Reys eventually moved to the United States to focus on a career as children's book authors producing six more Curious George stories between 1947 and 1966. The Rey's final story, Curious George Goes to the Hospital, was written after representatives from Boston Children's Hospital contacted the couple asking if they could write a book to help prepare children for a hospital stay.  Apparently, the Reys took a lot of satisfaction from this book because parents would frequently write to them thanking it for easing a child's hospital visit.

In creating MONKEY BUSINESS, Yamazki discovered that astonishing details documenting the Rey's escape from Paris and their lives as children's book authors had been carefully preserved in more than 300 boxes of materials stored at the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.  These included Hans' wartime journals, photographs taken by Margret, unpublished George sketches, brainstorming notes, and letters to and from the book's publisher.  With the cooperation of the Rey Estate, MONKEY BUSINESS provides a "behind-the-scenes glimpse of how Curious George came to be.

One of the aspects of the documentary that really impresses me is how MONKEY BUSINESS transforms portions of it into animated sequences that mimic the style of Hans' Curious George illustrations.  I found it to be a touching tribute witnessing Hans and Margret both in real life photographs and how they would have appeared if transformed into the pages of one of their books.  MONKEY BUSINESS combines animated sequences that are integrated with archived material from the de Grummond Children's Literature Collection  and interviews of people who knew the Reys personally or have studied the couple's artistic and literary accomplishments.   Add in a narrator and graphical elements like page turns and MONKEY BUSINESS promises to evoke the feeling of flipping through the pages of a Curious George book.

2016 is the 75th anniversary of the original publication of Curious George.  Bringing MONKEY BUSINESS to completion would be a wonderful way to celebrate this milestone year for a character who has meant so much to so many people since his inception in 1941.  Let's help share the story of how this curious monkey came to be by supporting Ema Ryan Yamazki's KICKSTARTER campaign today. CLICK HERE to make a contribution to support MONKEY BUSINESS.

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