Hans Augusto Rey (September 16, 1898 – August 26, 1977) was an illustrator and a writer, known best for the Curious George series of children’s picture books that he and his wife Margret Rey created from 1939 to 1966.
Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born in Hamburg, Germany, as was Margret. Hans and Margret’s father were German Jews; her mother was not. The couple met in Hamburg at Margret’s sister’s 16th birthday party. Margret was taken with Hans to Brazil and Hans was said to be selling “bathtubs” on the Amazon. They met in Brazil, where Hans was working as a salesman and Margret had gone to escape the rise of Nazism. They married in 1935 and moved to Paris that year. Margret, headstrong, left to find him. They married and lived in Montmartre and fled Paris in June 1940 on self-made bicycles, carrying the Curious George manuscript with them.
While in Paris, Hans’s animal drawings came to the attention of a French publisher, who commissioned him to write a children’s book. The result, Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys, is little remembered, but one of its characters, an adorably impish monkey named Curious George, was such a success that the couple considered writing a book just about him. The outbreak of World War II interrupted their work. As Jews, the Reys decided to flee Paris before the Nazis seized the city. Hans assembled two bicycles, and they fled Paris just a few hours before it fell. Among the meager possessions they brought with them was the illustrated manuscript of Curious George.
The Reys’ odyssey brought them to Bayonne, France where they were issued life-saving visas signed by Vice-Consul Manuel Vieira Braga (following instructions from Aristides de Sousa Mendes) on June 20, 1940. They crossed the Spanish border, where they bought train tickets to Lisbon. From there they returned to Brazil, where they had met five years earlier, but this time they continued to New York. The Reys escaped Europe carrying the manuscript to the first Curious George book, which they then published in New York by Houghton Mifflin in 1941. Hans and Margret originally planned to use watercolor illustrations, but since they were responsible for the color separation, he changed these to the cartoon-like images that continue to be featured in each of the books. (A collector’s edition with the original watercolors has since been released.)
Curious George was an instant success, and the Reys were commissioned to write more adventures of the mischievous monkey and his friend, the Man in the Yellow Hat. They wrote seven stories in all, with Hans mainly doing the illustrations and Margret working mostly on the stories, though they both admitted to sharing the work and cooperating fully in every stage of development. At first, however, covers omitted Margret’s name. In later editions this was changed, and Margret now receives full credit for her role in developing the stories.