Curious George: A Little History & Some Reading Tips #tbt

In the 1920s H.A. Rey (author of Curious George) traveled up & down the Amazon river selling bathtubs; he also sketched the monkeys he observed along the way.

When he and Margret married a few years later, they had two pet marmosets who were always getting into mischief.

In 1940, H.A. & Margret fled their Paris home on bicycles in the middle of the night, escaping the advance of the German army. Among their few possessions were children’s book manuscripts about a naughty little monkey.

Seventy-five years later, Preschool Bookworm dressed in his monkey Halloween costume and declared, “I’m feeling curious. Just like George.” We are glad for the heritage and survival of this week’s featured classic!

curious george

Each Thursday I’ll be featuring a book that my parents *could* have read to me as a child (spoiler alert: I’m no spring chicken), so we will go with a publication date of 1988 or earlier; all books must still be in print as of my writing.

Title/author: Curious George by H.A. Rey

Copyright date: 1941

Plot in a Sentence (or two): While visiting Africa, a man wearing a yellow hat discovers an adorable monkey and decides to take him home with him across the ocean, to a big city; the monkey finds himself in a variety of adventures at every turn of the journey due to his curiosity, including a rescue from the deep sea, a run-in with the fire department, making a jail break, and flying away on a bunch of balloons, until he finally reaches his new home at the zoo.

Decoding the Three Curious George Series: H.A. Rey authored five Curious George stories, and he authored an additional two as a team with his wife, Margret. These are typically called “The Original Adventures.” Hard to believe there were only seven original stories when you browse your library’s catalog or bookstore shelf, isn’t it? A second series of books was published based on the television series, many of which were edited by Margret after her husband’s death in 1977. A third series, “The New Adventures,” popped up after Margret’s death in 1996; these are said to be “illustrated in the style of H.A. Rey.” You’ll certainly notice a marked difference in the originals versus the new books. The former are quite a bit longer (approximately double the pages: 45 versus 24), and include more dangerous situations. The newer books feel more formulaic and tame. My Preschool Bookworm never seems to mind and chooses new and old alike. I, however, prefer the older ones, finding myself growing bored while reading the new, prosaic and redundant offerings. (Although there’s something to be said for avoiding the mention of ether and pipe smoking, I suppose.) At the bottom of this post I’ve included the bibliography of the Reys’ originals.

Why It’s Timeless: The Curious George Foundation, established in 1989, funds programs for children “that share Curious George’s irresistible qualities—ingenuity, opportunity, determination, and curiosity in learning and exploring.” Well, doesn’t that sound like a typical toddler? George will be celebrating his 75th birthday this upcoming year, but I think he is a 75 year old toddler! Bookworms for generations have been enjoying the antics of the curious monkey who always means well, but trouble follows nonetheless.

While You’re Reading: Curious George’s adventures lend themselves to practice making predictions: using clues in the text and pictures, combined with your own ideas, to guess what will happen next. Bookworms demonstrate their comprehension of the story by making predictions that are based on what is happening. This is a skill that takes time, so with younger bookworms, feel free to model this type of thinking: “Oh boy! I see those balloons and I think George is going to try to take them! I wonder if he will be able to hold them all! Let’s read to find out!” As you’re modeling this, be sure to include textual evidence for your idea (what’s happening in the text or illustrations) so your bookworms see the way good readers interact with text to create predictions. As I always recommend, don’t interfere with the story’s natural flow too intrusively. Maybe pause once or twice in the story (or following your child’s lead) to check for comprehension with a prediction, or to model prediction making. With my 2.5 year old, I will pause infrequently and ask “What do you think will happen next?” and more often than not, he replies with an inquisitive tone, “I don’t know!” I’ll offer a quick idea, and move on. At this stage, he will more likely predict with a story we’ve read a few times. And that’s okay! It’s showing his comprehension over several readings!

Just for Fun: The history of Curious George and his creators is an adventure story of its own! I highly recommend the fabulous biography for children, The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden. It’s 72 pages long, and full of primary sources. I recommend this for a wide variety of ages (as an adult I found it fascinating!) because you bring your own level of background knowledge about World War II to the text- if that’s limited (or non existent for the youngest), it’s still an exciting read. If you know a bit more, you are able to fill in the gaps to understand the larger picture of the Reys’ journey. It’s also a great choice for an upper elementary student searching for a biography book to read.

Books by H.A. Rey:

Curious George, 1941

Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys, 1942 (in which George appears)

Curious George Takes a Job, 1947

Curious George Rides a Bike, 1952

Curious George Gets a Medal, 1957

Curious George Learns the Alphabet, 1963

Books by Margret & H.A. Rey:

Curious George Flies a Kite, 1958

Curious George Goes to the Hospital, 1966

Curious George books should be readily available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate links provided. 

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