When Margret and H.A. (Hans Augusto) Rey fled Paris by bicycle in June 1940, just ahead of the Nazis, they brought with them five manuscripts, including one about a French monkey. Originally called The Adventures of Fifi, it was published the following year by Houghton Mifflin in the United States as Curious George. Not only has Curious George never been out of print, but over the past seven and a half decades, its popularity has grown dramatically. The original seven-volume series now has 133 titles available in 26 languages; 75 million Curious George books are in print.
“What we’re seeing is that this brand continues to resonate year after year,” said Ann Dye, marketing director for HMH Books for Young Readers. “[Curious George] celebrates what’s so great about being a kid: being mischievous, trying new things, and failing sometimes. We have a lot of great brands, [but] he’s our centerpiece for a reason.”
To mark the brand’s diamond jubilee, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is publishing two 75th-anniversary books: Curious George (Sept.), the book that started it all, and a new collection, The Complete Adventures of Curious George (Oct.), containing seven George stories. Both come with free downloadable audiobook versions, read by The Office star John Krasinski.
The Reys’ longtime publisher is also releasing a young readers’ edition of Louise Borden’s 2005 The Journey That Saved Curious George, illustrated by Allan Drummond, which chronicles the Reys’ escape from France. It was originally published in picture book format; the newly reformatted edition, aimed at readers ages seven to 10, has a smaller gift-book trim size, and it includes a q&a with Borden and an essay titled “Become a Detective.” Borden also created a scrapbook in a similar style with historical photographs for the new edition of The Complete Adventures. There she continues the Reys’ saga and describes what happened once they reached the United States and settled in New York City, and then later in Cambridge, Mass.
“Everyone knows who Curious George is. He has an enduring quality,” Borden said. In working on The Journey and the new scrapbook about the Reys, she added, “I fell in love with both of them. They’re amazing people, true artists.” Borden likes to keep them close by as she works. She has one of Margret’s pieces of pottery in her office along with copies of H.A.’s ID cards.
All Things George
The new books will be out in time for Curiosity Day (September 17), HMH’s annual celebration of Curious George and being curious, which falls on the Saturday closest to H.A. Rey’s birthday. Nevertheless, Karen Walsh, executive director of publicity for HMH Books for Young Readers, noted that the press has been honoring the mischievous monkey all year long. And in March, Hulu secured streaming rights to all nine seasons of the two-time Emmy Award–winning Curious George TV series, as well as television specials and feature-length movies.
HMH’s 75th promotion got under way this past spring with a special Curious George “Read to Me” plush created for indie bookstores to sell on Independent Bookstore Day (April 30). That was immediately followed by Children’s Book Week (May 2–8), during which bookstores and the New York Public Library held Curious George–themed events.
This summer, the American Booksellers Association’s summer-reading campaign took its inspiration from the inquisitive monkey with the theme “Get Curious About Reading.” The Curious George World Tour, created in conjunction with the Association of Children’s Museums and the Ultimate Block Party, wraps up later this month. The tour, which also involves a Little Blue Truck (inspired by another iconic HMH children’s book), is making stops in eight cities to promote education and learning.
The Curious George brand is also poised to take flight with its first airline promotion. American Airlines is adding a Curious George in-flight channel. Starting this month, the eight AA Admiral Kids Clubs around the country will give away copies of Curious George Says Thank You to children at the club.
Though much of the marketing has been directed nationally, the Reys’ memory is very much rooted in Cambridge’s Harvard Square, where the couple moved in 1963. In 1996 neighbors Hillel and Donna Stavis opened a children’s bookstore to honor H.A. and Margret’s contribution to children’s literature, Curious George Goes to WordsWorth (later Curious George & Friends). The store closed in June 2011 only to be reopened a year later by Adam Hirsch and his wife, Jamie, as The World’s Only Curious George Store.
“We believed there was a demand for a fresh, new way to experience Curious George’s world,” said Hirsch. “We hope to have created a special place for children, parents, and grandparents to immerse themselves and lose themselves for a few minutes in Curious George’s love, laughter, and learning.”
Promoting Curious George doesn’t end with H.A. Rey’s birthday, or the end of the year. Dye considers it a 365-days-a-year job. Almost as soon as Curiosity Day ends, she’ll be planning a new one for 2017, along with other Curious George activities. And the Curious George costumes—there are currently 70 official ones in circulation—will continue to bring the beloved monkey to children around the country.