Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year!  1942
 by Ann Mulloy Ashmore

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

1942 New Year's Card

     “The Statue of Liberty greeted us through the morning mist,” Hans recalled. It was a cold, crisp October day in 1940 when the ship bringing the Reys to New York from Rio de Janeiro sailed past Lady Liberty. Fifty-four years earlier, on another foggy October day, President Grover Cleveland dedicated the statue, a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States, with these words: “We will not forget that Liberty has here made her home, nor shall her chosen altar be neglected. Willing votaries will constantly keep alive its fires and these shall gleam upon the shores of our sister Republic thence, and joined with answering rays a stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man's oppression, until Liberty enlightens the world.”

But in 1940, “our sister Republic” could only remember with longing the sweetness of liberty and freedom. Crushed beneath the boot heel of the Nazi war machine, the fires of Liberty’s torch no longer gleamed on the shores of occupied France, a fact Hans and Margret Rey knew only too well.  Since June of that year, they had been on the run. First, escaping on bicycles as the German army marched into Paris. Later, avoiding a narrow brush with authorities on the Spanish border on their way to Lisbon, and passage to Brazil. As Louise Borden has written in The Journey that Saved Curious George, ironically, it was the pictures of the loveable monkey that Hans carried in his knapsack that saved the day.
Mississippians, young and old, will soon be able to view Hans’ 1942 New Year’s greeting card when the Mississippi Museum of Art in Jackson hosts Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H. A. Rey exhibit March 3 through July 22, 2012 Until then,  visit your local library and read more about the Reys in “Curious About Them: Reliving the Magnificent  Margret and H. A. Rey” in the Winter 2010 issue of Children & Libraries. The llustrated, full-text article is provided through Mississippi’s MAGNOLIA  Academic Search Premier database.  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Wishes!
 by Ann Mulloy Ashmore

Ann Mulloy Ashmore 1999

         Christmas came early to the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection in 1999. At the beginning of the year boxes began arriving from Boston—boxes containing the literary estate of Margret and H. A. Rey. As staff unpacked and documented treasure after treasure, it was clear the Reys and Curious George had given the University of Southern Mississippi an unbelievable gift—the legacy of 42 years of creative collaboration. By fall semester it was time to share the Reys’ gift with the university community and the public at large.  “Curious George Comes to Hattiesburg: The Life and Work of H. A. and Margret Rey” opened September 1, 1999. The exhibit, designed and mounted by curator, Dee Jones, displayed more than 400 illustrations, manuscripts, photographs, diaries, letters, books, pottery, and needlepoint, as well as the original drawings for Curious George, published by Houghton Mifflin in 1941.
One could say that Curious George was quite the Santa in 1999 and as the holidays approached, Jones, an accomplished seamstress, decided the collection’s 6-foot tall stuffed Curious George needed a make-over. Previously owned by the public library in Clarksdale, Mississippi, George came to the collection wearing a pair of print overalls. After many years of children crawling into his lap for story time, the pants were a little grimy. “I thought it would be neat to have him dressed as Santa for our Holiday Book Fair that year,” Jones responded. “So I put my sewing skills to good use and whipped up his outfit.”  It took nearly five yards of red velvet and a size 4X tee shirt for a pattern, but thanks to Jones’ skill, George was dressed as Santa in time for the November event.  “The nice part was that after Christmas, we took off his hat and he was good for Valentine’s Day.”
After working 23 years at de Grummond, Jones moved to Louisiana in 2003. Today she is head of cataloging in the Department of Medical Library Science at LSUHealth in Shreveport. Still, she remembers her tenure at de Grummond with fondness. Like the day she and archives director Toby Graham had to carry George across the courtyard from the McCain Library to the Cook Library for an event, or the time the she asked him to “introduce” one of the librarians dressed in a Curious George costume handing out bananas to members of the audience at the first de Grummond Seminar funded by the Mississippi Endowment for the Humanities. “No one ever told me when I was in library school that I’d be carrying a giant monkey around,” Jones recalled the director’s remark. “At de Grummond, we always considered George things as “other duties as assigned.”

Thursday, December 1, 2011

How Curious George Came to Live in Hattiesburg  
 by Ann Mulloy Ashmore

Lena Y. de Grummond

Photograph courtesy of
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

       Whenever I give a presentation about Hans and Margret Rey and their children’s books, one of the first questions I’m asked is “Why did they leave their literary estate to a university in Mississippi? The answer lies in the personality and perseverance of Lena Y. de Grummond, professor of children’s literature in the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Southern Mississippi, and founder of the de Grummond Children’s Literature Collection in 1966. 
       A children's author herself, de Grummond wanted to demonstrate to her students the steps required in publishing a children's book--from the first glimpse of an idea to the final published volume. To accomplish her goal, she wrote personal notes in longhand to each of the major authors and illustrators of the time asking them if they would like to contribute their manuscripts, illustrations and publishing production items, galleys, page proofs, color separations, etc., to the collection. “Sometimes I wrote 400 to 500 letters a week,” she recalled in a brochure detailing the history of the collection in 1972. “Some were surprised and wrote that they had never saved any of their materials….” Her reply: “Please mail your trash basket to us.” Hans Rey was one of many authors and illustrators who responded to Lena’s warm, charismatic Southern charm. In customary fashion Hans illustrated his reply with a drawing of George on his way to Hattiesburg, books and manuscripts in hand. To see the image, go the collection’s home page.
            Now internationally known as a premier children’s literature depository, the de Grummond Collection’s online contributor list reads like the index to Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Strengths include 18th, 19th and 20th century American and British children’s literature with more than 250 editions of fable books, including thirty pre-1750 imprints. Other highlights include hornbooks and early primers, woodblocks engraved by Edmund Evans for six of Randolph Caldecott’s picture books, 300 original watercolors and pencil sketches by Kate Greenaway, and an extensive collection of 20th century production materials from McLoughlin Brothers Publishers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Spell ‘Margret’ – Let Me Count the Ways
  by Ann Mulloy Ashmore

If you wanted to provoke Margret Rey’s ire, all you had to do was spell her name incorrectly. Ursula Nordstrom, director of the Department of Books for Boys and Girls at Harper & Brothers, learned this lesson after making Margret’s acquaintance in 1941. Initially the editor addressed letters to the couple as “Mr. and Mrs. Rey.” As their friendship grew, however, Nordstrom’s salutation changed to the more familiar, “Hans and Margaret.” Margret, being Margret, complained and after several letters with the “extra a” crossed out with a pen, Nordstrom finally caught on.

McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi

Years later Nordstrom indirectly referred to the spat in a letter to Barbara Alexandra Dicks—a letter Leonard Marcus chose to include in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom (pp. 359-360). “I met him and Margret (correct spelling that, MARGRET) when they were refugees in the early forties….,” Nordstrom wrote. Readers may have sensed a note of pique in Nordstrom’s tone, given her emphasis on the “correct spelling,” but without the backstory, I wonder how many understood its depth?
According to Lay Lee Ong, a long-time friend, Margret first thought about dropping the “extra a” in her name as early as the 1930’s when she worked for an advertising agency in Berlin. “She wanted to be different,” wrote Ong in response to my question. It appears Margret did not put her desire into action, however, until shortly before the couple fled Paris ahead of the Nazis. 
In January 1941, just months after the Reys arrived in New York, Margret received a letter from the Banco Germanico in Rio de Janeiro. The letter, addressed to Margret Reyersbach, had been originally mailed to their apartment in Paris.  At the time her legal name was Margarete Elisabeth Reyersbach, but Margret’s return letter dated February 9, 1941, was signed Margret Reyersbach.  This is the earliest documented spelling of her name without the “extra a” that I have found, thus far.
This wasn’t the first time Margret had changed her name. Her given name was Margarethe (mar gar EH tuh), the Danish form of Margaret, which she used throughout her school years. By 1927 she had dropped the “h” and eight years later, Margarete Elisabeth  Waldstein became Frau Reyersbach upon her marriage to Hans in August 1935. A digital copy of their wedding announcement is available on the de Grummond Collection Web site.  Sometime after 1941 the couple legally changed their last name to Rey. At that moment Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein Reyersbach became Margret Rey—short, to the point, direct—a name befitting the author and businesswoman she had become. “Margret wanted to be different,” her friend Lay Lee mused, “That she was, and how!”

Thursday, November 10, 2011

How Do You Pronounce 'Reyersbach' in Portuguese?         
 by Ann Mulloy Ashmore        
Answer: With difficulty. Born Hans Augusto Reyersbach, Hans Rey explained the evolution of his name from Reyersbach in a letter to a fan. “My name Rey is not my original [family name],” Hans wrote. “It was Reyersbach, but when I left my native Hamburg, Germany, for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1925, that name turned out to be a tongue-twister for my Portuguese-speaking friends. They shortened it to Rey.”

McCain Library and Archives, University of Southern Mississippi

Hans used the formulation H. A. Rey as a nom de plume as early as the 1930s, however. Frustrated that he was not allowed to “adorn” business letters with illustrations, he created personalized greeting cards, cartoons, even a short book to amuse himself as well as his friends. Rey once told a reporter that the idea for the book came to him during a dinner lecture. As Hans listened to the botanist’s talk, he noticed an unusual plant on the table where he was seated. Suspecting it was carnivorous, he began to wonder if it would eat a piece of his steak. Not content to just imagine the outcome, Rey allowed the question to inspire a Planta Carnivora: Romance Botanico em 26 Capitulos, a humorous picture story about a carnivorous plant so out of control it finally has to be relocated to a zoo. A Planta Carnivora was the first of several versions of the story that would eventually be published by Harper & Brothers as Elizabite: The Adventures of a Carnivorous Plant in 1942 and 1962.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Mr. Smith Lives in the Pool Drain
 by Ann Mulloy Ashmore

            Splashing about in a swimming pool on a hot summer day is everyone’s idea of fun, but when Mr. Smith lived in the pool drain, summer swims were also funny, thanks to H. A. Rey, co-creator with wife Margret of the Curious George children's books. From 1953 to 1977 the couple vacationed each summer in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire. Every afternoon Hans Rey would walk or ride his bicycle to the community pool to swim, and every afternoon a cadre of neighborhood children eagerly awaited his arrival. In the water, Hans became a turtle, giving rides on his back to all-comers, or at times a whale that spouted water. But Hans drew the most giggles when he crawled under the diving board to “talk” to Mr. Smith and the other creatures that lived in the pool drain. 
An accomplished ventriloquist, Rey learned to imitate animals as a small boy visiting the Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, Germany, where he grew up. He became so good at throwing his voice, that one time while speaking in Atlanta, Georgia, he almost convinced the 4,000 people in the audience that there was a real lion in the auditorium. The next day The Atlanta Constitution newspaper reported, “He cackled. He bellowed. He snorted. But when H. A. Rey, the little round man who writes and illustrates children’s books, turned his talents to roaring like a  jungle lion…the kids of Atlanta roared right back at him!”
            Rey studied astronomy and wrote two books about the subject. One, Find the Constellations, was written for children and on clear summer evenings in Waterville Valley he often invited curious youngsters to “stargaze” at the Rey cottage. “Every kid would come on the run,” remembered a neighbor. Patiently, he let each child use the big telescope to look at the stars in Orion’s belt and Jupiter’s moons as the planet rose in the sky over Mt. Osceola.
Hans shared not only his enthusiasm for astronomy with each child, but also his love of nature and animals. Three of his young friends, Nat, Nick and Steve Scrimshaw, wrote a tribute to the author following his death in 1977. “It was to him that we would bring wounded chipmunks, birds, squirrels, a captured mole, even an odd rock.”  Likewise, the thoughts and opinions of his small companions were important to him as well. “What animal should the letter M be?” he once asked the Scrimshaw brothers when working on a book.
Sadly, today’s summer visitors no longer talk to the inhabitants of the swimming pool drain at the Waterville Valley Inn. Without Mr. Smith and his friend H. A. Rey to call them into our imaginations, their voices are silent. But the children who took turtle rides on Rey’s back those summers long ago know the creatures have not gone away. They are just hiding, waiting—eagerly expecting a magical summer day when the little round man returns for his afternoon swim.