On my winter break, I was lucky to find some free time for pleasure reading. I can’t tell you how great it felt to crack open a few books purely for enjoyment. Reading and writing are my favorite hobbies (besides cooking and eating, of course!). Before my trip, I pulled out my “Read This” list and bought a few of the titles, including this book: The Journey that Saved Curious George.
When I first heard about the book, I bought it from Amazon.com thinking it would be a good read for the plane. I didn’t notice the part where it said, “Age Level: 8 and up.” Imagine my surprise when I opened the Amazon box and saw a large hardcover picture book– it was only 72 pages long!
Well, I am nothing if not a kid, at least inside. I brought it on my trip anyway and read it when I was in Miami. What an amazing book! It’s a true story, researched and told by author Louise Borden, illustrated by Allan Drummond. I’ve included a brief summary here. I highly encourage you to buy the book and read the entire adventure, as there are many details I’ve skipped over that are well worth reading, in addition to some fantastic photos and illustrations.
Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born in Hamburg, Germany on September 16, 1898. He grew up in a Jewish family near the Hagenbeck Zoo, where he developed a lifelong love of animals. A born artist, Hans loved to draw and paint—especially animals.
A painting by Hans Reyersbach, 8 years old – 1906. Image courtesy of “The Journey that Saved Curious George” and the H.A. and Margret Rey Collection, University of Southern Mississippi.
After World War I, Hans and his family left Germany because of the increasingly bad economy. They settled in Rio De Janeiro, and Hans joined the family business of selling bathtubs and kitchen sinks. When not working, Hans continued to hone his artistic skills, often drawing the monkeys that swung wild in the trees of Brazil.
In 1935, Hans reconnected with Margaret Elizabeth Waldstein, another German Jewish immigrant to Brazil. The Reyersbach and Waldstein families had been friendly in Hamburg, and they became reacquainted with each other in Rio De Janeiro. Margret’s family had left Germany because of the rising popularity of the Nazi party, and the increasingly unsafe climate for Jews there.
Hans and Margaret became fast friends, and they began working together. Margaret was also artistic and creative—she had studied at the famous Bauhaus school in Germany—and the two made a great team. Hans began earning work for himself as a poster and map artist. They each shortened their names at this time—Margaret to Margret, and Hans to H.A. Rey. This made their names easier to remember for Brazilian clients.
Hans and Margret were married in Brazil in 1935. The Reys chose to honeymoon in Paris, France, and ended up loving the coutry so much that they settled there—first in Paris, then in a small countryside village, and then back again to Paris. Hans began working as a newspaper cartoon artist. His animal illustrations were noticed by a French publisher, and he was commissioned to write a children’s book called “Cecil G. and the Nine Monkeys.” One of the characters, an adorable monkey named Fifi, was very curious. Hans and Margret began working on a story with Fifi as the star.
An early title page drawing from The Adventures of Fifi. Image courtesy of “The Journey that Saved Curious George” and the H.A. and Margret Rey Collection, University of Southern Mississippi.
Their work was cut short by World War II. As the Nazis closed in on Paris, the Reys made a quick decision to leave the country– it was no longer safe for Jewish families. Hans cobbled together two bicycles from spare parts. They assembled a few meager possessions, including the illustrated Fifi manuscript, and fled Paris by bicycle. They rode for four days, sleeping in boarding rooms and even a barn along the way, till they reached the Orleans train station. They boarded a train for the south of France, and just in time—the city of Etampes was bombed two days after the Reys passed through.
In Biarritz, the Reys were able to get papers from the Portuguese consulate because of their Brazilian citizenship. They sold the bicycles for train fare and boarded a train for Lisbon. From Lisbon they sailed to Brazil, then after two months they boarded another ship to America. During the war, America represented freedom. Four months after they had set out on their bicycles from Paris, the Reys sailed into New York Harbor, welcomed by the Statue of Liberty. Their escape from France had been narrow and miraculous, indeed.
A year later, in the fall of 1941, the Reys had their first children’s book published in America—their story about a curious little monkey, Fifi. But like Hans and Margret, Fifi also had a name change. The story would be called Curious George, a beloved book that is still enjoyed today by children all over the world. To date, it has sold over twenty-seven million copies and been translated into more than fourteen languages.
The original cover of Curious George. Later versions included Margret’s name as a co-author.
I highly recommend The Journey That Saved Curious George—it’s a fantastic story, and a must for anybody who loves Curious George. Older children enjoy the well-told story and fun illustrations. Big kids, like me, will appreciate the fact that this story is true. It’s amazing to think that Curious George might never have been. Hans and Margret were perilously close to becoming victims of the Nazi regime. It’s astounding to think about how many brilliant, creative lives were cut short during the war, and how many treasures like Curious George were lost in the nightmare of the Holocaust.
This story really touched my heart. It inspired me to create a recipe in honor of Curious George, Hans, and Margret. Because Curious George has a favorite fruit, I thought it must include bananas. I also decided to include chocolate, because we had lots of Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) leftover from the holiday:
I’m guessing that many of you have some lingering holiday chocolate from the Christmas stockings, too. This recipe is a great way to melt it into something rich, yummy, and cozy for the season. It’s gluten free if you use GF-certified products. Kids will really love the rich, sweet flavor of this Banana Hot Chocolate—you can whip up a batch, curl up on the couch, and read your favorite Curious George book together. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a cold winter afternoon.
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- Warm the milk slowly over medium heat, stirring with a whisk, till the chocolate fully melts into the milk and creates a smooth chocolate liquid. This will take a few minutes-- don't rush the process by turning up the heat, or you'll end up with scorched milk. Heat up the mixture thoroughly, till it's quite hot, but don't let it boil.
- Remove from heat and whisk in the cinnamon till thoroughly combined.
- Place the banana slices in a blender.
- Carefully pour the hot liquid into the blender. Make sure your check your blender's manual on blending hot liquids; different blenders have different requirements for heated liquids. Alternatively, you may use an immersion blender for this step.
- Blend the mixture for about 30 seconds until smooth.
- Taste the drink; if your banana was not quite ripe, you may need to add a spoon or two of sugar to taste. Pour the banana hot chocolate into two large mugs or three smaller mugs.
- Serve immediately. The drink will thicken as it cools, and may need to be stirred briskly if left to sit too long.