Born on September 16, 1898 in Hamburg, Germany, Hans Augusto Rey grew up near the Hagenbeck Zoo, where he developed a lifelong love of animals. In 1923, his family moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, because inflation was rampant after World War I. Hans accompanied them, selling bathtubs in the family business.
In 1935, Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein’s family also emigrated to Brazil because of the political climate in Germany and the two families resumed their friendship. Hans and Margarete married in 1935 and honeymooned in Paris. The two loved the city so much that they took up residence there.
Hans cartooned for newspapers and an editor asked if he’d expand his cartoons into a book. That first book, Rafi and the Nine Monkeys, had a small marsupial named Curious George in it. The couple decided that George deserved a book of his own, so they worked on a manuscript. However, the Nazis were approaching Paris and the Reys, both German Jews, knew they couldn’t stay in the town. Hans built two bicycles out of spare parts, the couple grabbed warm coats and food and five manuscripts, and, on June 14, 1940, they rode toward the French-Spanish border.
The trip took them four days, after which they sold their bicycles for ship fare and set sail for Brazil. From there, they traveled to New York City and a new life as children’s book authors and illustrators. The first Curious George book was published in 1941. Today, more than 25 million copies of the books have been sold and George is famous in many countries.
Mr. Rey died in 1977, at the age of 79.