March 25, 2010

A Little Monkey, Chased By The Nazis. We Have To Help Him. This Is Curious

reys_on_bikes_usm.jpg

I've been kind of interested to see "Curious George Saves The Day," the Jewish Museum's exhibit of the work of H.A. and Margret Rey, but now after reading Edward Rothstein's review in the Times, I'm a bit confounded, too.

The basics of the Reys' story are captured in the show's title: they were German Jews living in Paris, who fled on bicycle in advance of the invading German army in 1939, with sketches of a monkey, then called Fifi, in their bags. Their children's book illustrations served as defacto passports several times as they struggled to reach the US. But somehow, absolutely none of this seems to have made its way into the Reys' work, or journals:

...Curious George and his world seem almost to have been a refuge in which historical forces were held at bay by a focus on the timeless innocence of childhood, sensed in the artificial world of this strangely tailless monkey.
I don't know what to make of it. Still, it gives me more respect for the original books--and it makes me all the ornerier about the horrible, mindless, pile-on of franchise titles.

UPDATE IN LIEU OF COMMENTS AT THE MOMENT: So a couple of people who have seen the show have answered a question I kind of wondered about. From the title and a mention in Rothstein's article, I assumed that the exhibition was based on Louise Borden's 2005 book, The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey. But apparently there's next to no mention of her at all, and she was apparently not involved in the show. Obviously, the Reys' story is the Reys' story, and the artwork and archive is in a university library. But it still seems a little odd.

"Curious George Saves The Day," at the Jewish Museum through Aug. 1 [nyt]
image: unpublished, 1938, via University of Southern Mississippi

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