Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ballots, Bullets and Bailouts: A Reflection on the Politics of H. A. Rey

            Joe Runci's photograph in The Boston Globe tells it all. Hans Rey, right, wearing a plaid jacket and sporting a Eugene McCarthy button examines the winning results of votes cast for McCarthy by Waterville Valley voters in the 1968 New Hampshire Presidential primary. Rey's support for the Democratic challenger was based primarily on McCarthy's opposition to the Johnson Administration's escalation of the Vietnam War, a position Rey had publicly spoken and written about since 1966. Had he been alive in 2012, it's likely that the ardent supporter of liberal causes might have been disappointed with some aspects of Obama's first term as well. Yet Rey, like many naturalized citizens and ethnic minority voters, would have also realized the symbolism of Obama's presidency. As America's first African-American president, Barack Obama embodied the words "All men are created equal," in our Declaration of Independence.
            Mixed in with the plethora of political ads during the waning days of the 2012 election were trailers for Steven Spielberg's new movie about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. This juxtaposition of ballots and bullets reminded me of an essay Hans Rey once wrote titled "Arithmetic and Vietnam," published in The Boston Globe on June 12, 1966. In the essay Rey borrowed an analogy from Abraham Lincoln when the President suggested that the Union buy the freedom of every slave in the Confederacy. Rey wrote that Lincoln reasoned, "that if the war could thus be ended, the cost would be insignificant compared with the cost in blood and money if the war were to go on.” Applying the same logic to the war in Vietnam, Rey estimated the United States was spending about $15 billion dollars a year to protect approximately five million, non-Buddhist Vietnamese, or $3000 per person, $45,000 for a family of five. At that cost Rey asserted, “We could buy a villa on the French Rivera for 200,000 families.”
            Science fiction novelist Isaac Asimov responded to Rey’s letter a few days later. “Saw the letter in the Globe,” Asimov wrote to Rey, “and put the name at the bottom with the intelligence above and figured it was you. The time will come when you will be quoted plentifully. Alas that foresight is not regarded by those to whom hindsight will come so naturally.”
            Rey continued to protest the Vietnam War in letters to politicians, family and friends. In a letter dated December 1971 he wrote to a cousin, “There is still no peace—the ground troops are being withdrawn, but that nefarious air bombing goes on." Likewise, his disdain for Richard Nixon is reflected in a letter written to the President in 1972:
“For heaven’s sake, order a stop to the BOMBING in Vietnam. Mechanized
mass murder, from a safe 30,000 feet, and the destruction of the plant and
animal life on Indochina’s earth may achieve a military victory—yet such
a victory would bring no honor to the United States…. The founders of our
country wrote 'A Declaration of Independence' because, in their words,
‘a decent respect to the opinions of mankind’ required it. Do we –
does your administration – no longer feel that DECENT RESPECT?”

Were he alive today, Hans Rey, an avid movie buff, would have gone to see Spielberg's Lincoln. No doubt he would have been inspired by the retelling of Lincoln's commitment to pass the 13th amendment, to end the war, and hold the Union together. But perhaps what Rey, a Jew, who himself escaped the tyranny of those who thought he and his kind were "less than human" just two decades earlier, regarded as the most significant aspect of Lincoln's greatness was his determination to re-form a United States of America that cleaved not only to the tenets of the Declaration of Independence, but its underlying premise "that all men are created equal" and should be afforded life, liberty and the opportunity to pursue happiness to their fullest potential, regardless of their race, gender, ethnicity, or religious beliefs.

           Somewhere Hans Rey is smiling, and I'm guessing he's added a "Forward" button to his collection of political memorabilia.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Snail Mail

             No one definitively knows who first coined the term “snail mail.” More than likely it wasn’t Hans Rey, but a letter written to his wife Margret in July 1971 caused me to wonder. At the time I was working at the de Grummond Collection. The curator, Dee Jones, had selected various artifacts from the Rey literary estate for digitization and the image of Hans’ “snail mail” letter was one of those chosen to be imbedded in the online finding aid.
            The text of Hans’ letter was mundane—a simple note to his wife about a list she needed. Worried that Margret would not receive the information she had requested in time, Hans wrote, “In case I don’t get around to writing you tomorrow, or the mail being even slower than usual, here’s the shopping list on a separate sheet.” To emphasize his pique at the slowness of the mail from rural New Hampshire to rural Maine where Margret was attending a pottery workshop, Hans drew a red, white, and blue snail dragging a U.S. mail bag behind its shell.

Letter from Hans Rey to Margret Rey, dated July 6, 1971
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

            Where did the term “snail mail” originate, I wondered? How far back did use of the term go? Certainly, Hans’ 1971 letter predated e-mail, or so I thought. I posed my question to a Usenet list-serv in December 2002. Almost immediately, a kind computer scientist at the Information Sciences Institute at the University of Southern California responded. He referred me to the Random House Word of the Day for October 20, 2000, that referenced the term in The Hacker’s Dictionary (Steele, 1983). Yet, sadly, no mention of the term’s origin was given.
            I repeated my question to a friend, who happens to be an editor with an encyclopedic memory. He told me that the term may even go back to the invention of the telegraph. Evidently,  an 1840 article in the Philadelphia North American newspaper comparing the slowness of overland mail delivery to the new telegraph proclaimed, "The markets will no longer be dependent upon snail paced [sic] mails." Since then, a 1969 tongue-in-cheek piece titled “Post Office Considers Ways to Worsen Service,” written by The New York Times' famous humor columnist Russell Baker has been unearthed. “There is a long tradition at the Post Office which its planning department hates to break,” Baker wrote. “Traditionally every time the price of mailing a letter goes up a penny, the Post Office devises a new scheme for making service even worse than it was before…. With the last rise, when postage went to 6 cents, [the department] devised the intricate system known as ‘snail mail.’”  Perhaps Baker’s article had popularized the term and inspired Hans’ 1971 drawing.
            Curiously, that same year—1971—another Bostonian was also searching for a faster way to communicate with colleagues who didn’t return his phone calls. Ray Tomlinson, a computer scientist at BBN Technologies in Cambridge, wanted to send an electronic message from his computer to another computer using the Arpanet network, an early version of today’s Internet. Tomlinson’s problem was how to address the message so that it would be received by a specific person on a computer used by several people. As William F. Allman writes in Smithsonian, “Tomlinson’s eyes fell on @, poised above “P” on his Model 33 teletype…. Using his naming system, he sent himself an e-mail, which travelled from one teletype in his room, through Arpanet, and back to a different teletype machine [in the same room].”
            Tomlinson told NPR in 2009 that he can’t remember what he wrote in that first e-mail. “The first e-mail is completely forgettable, and therefore forgotten.” As for his choice of the @, a symbol which dates back to the 16th century, “The @ sign just made sense; it wasn’t commonly used in computing back then, so there wouldn’t be too much confusion. The symbol turns an e-mail address into a phrase. It means ‘user at host.’”
The originator of the term “snail mail" may be lost to history, but even those who used the term as a synonym for posted mail prior to the invention of electronic mail, could not have foreseen its ubiquity in the jargon of 21st century conversation. Tomlinson’s use of the @ symbol in e-mail created the pretext for the term “snail mail” to become synonymous with posted mail, but ironically, the symbol itself foreshadowed the decline of surface mail delivery. For as William Allman tells us, the @ is “called a ‘snail’ by Italians,” and more interestingly for fans of H. A. Rey's most famous character, George, a ‘monkey tail’ by the Dutch. How curious is that?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

            Seventy-seven years ago today on August 16, 1935, Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein married her friend, Hans Augusto Reyersbach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I’ve always wondered if they chose the 16th day of the month to be consistent with their birthdays—May 16th for Margret and September 16th for Hans.
            Hans, brilliantly, designed their wedding announcement  as a business card of sorts to celebrate not only their marriage, but also their new business venture. Described as a “family advertising company” with Margret's talents as a photographer, and Hans' as an artist, they began their life together “doing magazine work, advertising, and book illustrations”.   Within a few weeks, the couple had enough accounts to keep Hans busy working full-time as an artist and he resigned from his brother-in-law’s import-export firm.
            As a businessman, Hans had to restrain his artistic talent, telling a reporter one time that he was “not allowed to adorn commercial letters with illustrations.”  The following letter suggests, however, he did not always take this admonition to heart.
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
            Margret and Hans’ collaboration spanned more than forty years. After Hans’ death in 1977, Margret was asked what she felt led to their success. “Work,” she reminisced, “Work that interests you. [Marriage] is based on interests in common. Stay interested in life and work.”

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Comments, Email & Other Technical Things I’ve Neglected

Hello All Things Rey readers –
            First, I’m sorry I haven’t written any new posts since early June. The time since then has been well-spent, however, attending to other interests here at Delta State University and taking some needed time off. As our new semester begins, I expect to get back into the swing of things and return to my schedule of posting at least twice a month. Thanks for your patience.
            Secondly, I’ve heard from several of you that you have tried to comment, but that your comments did not post. I’ve gone back and tried to remedy this problem and hopefully this will not be an issue in the future. I also will be checking my blog email account more often, so if you would like to send your comments to me “off the grid” send them to annmulloyashmore@gmail.com .
            Once again thanks for your interest in the Reys and my All Things Rey blog. I look forward to sharing more of their amazing lives with you as the year goes on.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Storied City by Lenoard S. Marcus

            One can find many guidebooks to New York for families with children, but if your children are avid readers, as the children and grandchildren in my family are, no guide is better than Lenoard Marcus' Storied City: A Children's Book Walking Tour Guide to New York City (Dutton, 2003). As Marcus writes in his introduction, "As a city of superlatives where people have long come to follow their dreams, New York was bound to lodge itself in the world's imagination and to become a favorite setting for literature."

           Between the covers of this small, easy to follow guide, Marcus features 200 of the best books about New York written for young people. It also includes 21 walking tours describing 100 sites that inspired their authors, including the house where Margaret Wise Brown wrote Goodnight Moon.  To visualize what it looked like on the inside when Brown lived there, Marcus suggests that you pick up a copy of her book Mister Dog, where iillustrator, Garth Williams, used her house as inspiration for his scenes.

           Washington Square Park, the setting for Charlotte Zolotow and neighbor, Hans Rey's 1944 collaboration in The Park Book, is also featured in W. Nikola-Lisa's Bein' With You This Way. Other authors who called Greenwich Village home are Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings) and Maurice Sendak.

            Lucky the researcher who can retrace the steps of these authors and illustrators, roam through the places and spaces where they lived and created their stories and art. I justify spending ten days in New York, away from work and more mundane responsibilities, with grown-up reasons--research, collaboration with others, etc. However, what truly inspires me is my own childhood wonder--the memory of a favorite book read over and over again, and hours spent pouring over the illustrations of gifted artists. The truth is I am blessed with a job that allows me to work at something I love, and would do even if I didn't have any excuse at all.

           Here's hoping that you too will find your way to New York someday and when you do, take along a copy of Storied CityPerhaps, like me, you will find some of your childhood memories there as well. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Elizabite: The Story of the Book - Part VI

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
           Harper and Row reissued H. A. Rey’s Elizabite in the fall of 1962. The copyright date on the book’s verso remained 1942. There was no mention of a second edition, nor that the book had been revised, yet a major editorial change had been made from the 1942 version. An examination of Rey’s original color separations for the 1942 book tells the story. For the new edition, Rey carefully cut out the head of Mary, the black maid, from the pages where she appeared in the 1942 book, and on each taped patch he painted a Caucasian woman’s face. Her striped stockings and black arms were also erased, painted over in peachy/white tones.
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
          Rey's decision to change the maid Mary's race in the 1962 revision is explained in a letter he wrote to Ursula Nordstrom in 1973. "Remember when we changed Mary, the maid from colored to white to avoid the opprobrium of racism?” he wrote. “Well the other day a bright Radcliff girl was looking at the book and I told her that story and she said,   ‘Now with women’s lib[eration], won’t you want to have a butler or a man-servant instead of a maid cleaning up?”
       Rey closed the letter with a drawing of a butler and a rhyme. “The butler Jeeves comes with a broom to tidy up the messy room.”

 “Elizabite: The Story of the Book” is based on “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” an essay published in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 35, #4, Winter 2012.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Elizabite: The Story of the Book - Part V


          Call Me Charley (Harper, 1945), author Jesse Jackson’s first young adult novel, is dedicated to Hans and Margret Rey. As Leonard Marcus notes in Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, Jackson had met the couple at a Bread Loaf writer’s conference in the early 1940s. Jackson’s work drew the praise of Wallace Stegner, who advised him to stop by Harper and Brothers on his way home and show his work to Ursula Nordstrom, editor of the juvenile department.          
           Jackson's initial efforts did not meet with approval, however. Upon hearing Nordstrom's doubts about Jackson's ability to produce a publishable book, the Reys became his mentors. Hans provided his studio for Jackson to use, while Margret coached him on writing. 
Hans, Jesse Jackson, Margret and Charcoal on 5th Avenue
Curious George Takes a Job
Houghton Mifflin, 1947

          No doubt Jackson told the couple about why he was writing the book and of his experience as a juvenile probation officer in 1936 when three young black boys, fourteen to sixteen years old “had been sentenced to life terms in the Ohio State Penitentiary for robbing a restaurant and killing the owner for five dollars.” As he interviewed the young men, Jackson learned that they had dropped out of school “because they were too embarrassed to tell their teachers they couldn’t read.” 
Harper & Brothers, 1945
            During the early months of 1945 Margret too was working on a book about a spotted bunny who also suffered discrimination for being different. Spotty was not the first book published by Margret with her own byline; Pretzel had been issued in 1944. It was, however, with the exception of Curious George Goes to the Hospital (Houghton Mifflin, 1966) the only book the Reys created with a purpose in mind. Hans spoke of this in a 1959 newspaper article when he reflected that Spotty’s “ordeals teach a subtle lesson in mutual tolerance.” In November 1947 Spotty was selected along with Jackson’s second book, Anchor Man, to be included in the 1948 Children’s Reading for Democracy List sponsored by the American Brotherhood of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith included Spotty in its bibliography of recommended books well into the 1950s.

“Elizabite: The Story of the Book” is based on “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” an essay published in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 35, #4, Winter 2012.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Elizabite: The Story of the Book - Part IV

The Carnivorous Plant (~1939)
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
          Ursula Nordstrom wasted no time in signing a contract with Hans Rey for Elizabite: The Adventures of a Carnivorous Plant and by the first of August, Rey was busy preparing his manuscript.  One character in the book that had not been changed from the Portuguese version to the British version was the maid. In both of these versions she was depicted as a tall, attractive brunette wearing a blue dress and apron—a character who could have been easily mistaken for the botanist’s wife.
         The maid in the Harper edition was strikingly different, redrawn as a heavy-set, thick-lipped black servant wearing a blue bandana and buffoonish red and white striped hose. There are no clues as to why Rey made
Color separation for Elizabite (1942)
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
 this change. Perhaps he sought to redraw the maid to mirror the stereotyped images of African Americans commonly published in books, newspapers, and the mainstream magazines of the day—images that reflected the Jim Crow humor many Americans were accustomed to seeing.  Perhaps he had observed domestic servants in New York who dressed in a similar fashion.  In any case, both Rey and his editor Ursula Nordstrom felt the characterization to be appropriate.          
          Criteria for evaluating books "by and about the Negro suitable for children" had been developed as early as 1938 by Augusta Baker, a librarian at the 135th Street branch of the New York Public Library. However, only a handful of books by mainstream trade publishers before 1940 met the standards outlined by Baker. 
Charlemae Hill Rollins
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
In 1941, Charlemae Hill Rollins, head of the children’s room at the South Side Branch of the Chicago Public Library, wrote We Build Together: A Reader’s Guide to Negro Life and Literature for Elementary and High School Use, published by the National Council of Teachers of English. Rollins maintained that the continued use of stereotyped images in children books was due to authors and editors who were “either unaware of the danger or writing to satisfy a popular demand for humorous books, which amuse white children, but present the Negro in a false light, thus ridiculing him.” This criticism could have certainly been made of Elizabite. However, it was received by reviewers and most librarians at the time as “sheer nonsense” (Kirkus Review) and “a bright spot of hilarity in a darkened world” (New York Times)
            Little more than two years later, Hans Rey would encounter a man who would raise his awareness of racist images and the hurt they can cause. Their friendship would ultimately change both their lives and impact the world of children’s literature as well.

            “Elizabite: The Story of the Book” is based on “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” an essay published in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 35, #4, Winter 2012.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Elizabite: The Story of the Book - Part III

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
            In June 1941, Hans Rey was finishing the illustrations for Margaret Wise Brown’s The Polite Penguin, his first contract for Harper and Brothers. Anxious to retain Rey on her list, Ursula Nordstrom, director of the Department of Books for Boys and Girls at Harper, proposed the following in a letter dated July 16, 1941: “Now about the picture book to be written and illustrated by you. I am so enthusiastic over your work that we are eager to give you a contract even though the story for us is yet unwritten.”
            Rey responded the next day: “I am giving it some thought
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
and some of my night's sleep, and I hope I can put something before you soon." Significant changes were made to the 1938 version of The Carnivorous Plant to transform it into the manuscript Rey showed Nordstrom on July 29, 1941. First, text was added. The British Bobbies were redrawn as New York City policemen, and the main character was given a name, although readers had to wait until the very last page to discover it was "Elizabite," which was printed on the sign affixed to her zoo enclosure. 
            “Elizabite: The Story of the Book” is based on “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” an essay published in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 35, #4, Winter 2012.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Elizabite: The Story of the Book - Part II

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
           After the Reys married in August 1935, Margret and Hans took a belated honeymoon trip to Europe in 1936. Their “honeymoon” lasted four years and during their stay in Paris, the couple began their publishing career. On a visit to friends in London, Hans met with editors at Chatto & Windus, who agreed to publish Zebrology, another of Rey’s wordless books. This success prompted him to revise a Planta Carnivora: Romance Botanico em 26 Capitulos, in order to make it more appealing for a British audience.  
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
            Using the same format of three pictures to a page, Rey redrew the book replacing the few Portuguese words with English. A professor, called to examine the strange plant, is given a proper English pinstripe coat, and the small brown dachshund is replaced by a black Scottish terrier. Lastly, Rey added British Bobbies to the story to serve as guards when the plant is escorted to the zoo.
            In spite of his best efforts, The Carnivorous Plant was never published. A rejection letter dated September 18, 1938, from I. M. Parsons stated that while the story had “great charm,” the timing for its publication was not convenient, given that Chatto & Windus was publishing two of Rey’s other works in the next twelve months. With that news the bound watercolor manuscripts were forgotten until a letter from Ursula Nordstrom, their editor at Harper & Brothers in New York, arrived at the Rey apartment in July 1941.
            “Elizabite: The Story of the Book” is based on “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” an essay published in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 35, #4, Winter 2012.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Elizabite: The Story of the Book – Part I

Harper & Row, 1962
       H. A. Rey’s first work about a mischievous carnivorous plant was a wordless picture story titled a Planta Carnivora: Romance Botanico em 26 Capitulos. Created in Rio de Janeiro prior to 1935, he once said the idea for the story came to him during a dinner lecture when he spied a carnivorous plant at the table where he was seated. Seemingly bored with the speaker’s talk, Rey began to wonder if the plant would eat a piece of his steak. Not content to just imagine the outcome, Rey allowed the question to inspire a humorous picture story about a carnivorous plant so out of control that it finally had to be relocated to a zoo.
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
            Rey created a Planta Carnivora: Romance Botanico em 26 Capitulos solely to amuse himself and his Brazilian friends. Elizabite: The Story of the Book recounts various revisions Rey would make to the story before it was published in its final form in 1962. The story of Elizabite also reveals Margret and Hans Rey’s efforts to market their work to various audiences in Britain and the United States and provides insight into their working relationship with their editor at Harper & Brothers, Ursula Nordstrom.
            “Elizabite: The Story of the Book” is based on “From Elizabite to Spotty: The Reys, Race and Consciousness Raising,” an essay published in the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, Vol. 35, #4, Winter 2012.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Where's Charcoal?


Hans Rey with Charcoal, c. 1944
McCain Library & Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

            Most people associate the names Hans and Margret Rey with a curious little monkey named George. However, when Charcoal, a small black cocker spaniel, joined the family in 1942, “Charkie” became a regular feature in Margret and Hans Rey’s children’s books. Charcoal was also included on the couple’s annual New Year’s card. Click the dates below to see two of these cards posted on January 10, 2012 and March 9, 2012.  
            The Reys befriended an assortment of animals during the 42 years they were together—marmoset monkeys in Brazil, turtles in Paris, and a tamed chipmunk at their summer home in New Hampshire.
Margret and Charcoal in the park, c. 1944
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi
            “Animals have always played an important part in our lives,” Hans is quoted as saying. Animals were important, both personally and professionally. “We live off the profits of ‘monkey business,’” he added wryly.
            Want to play “Where’s Charcoal?”  The next time you visit the children’s department in your local public library, check out The Complete Adventures of Curious George (Houghton Mifflin, 2001). Beginning with Curious George Takes a Job, count how many times you can “spy” Charcoal in the background. One hint: Curious George Learns the Alphabet doesn’t have any dogs pictured, but there are lots of other animals to see. How many different animals can you find?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Memories Stitched Over Time

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

        In late 1949 Margret and Hans Rey were forced to abandon their third floor apartment on Washington Square. The land and buildings had been purchased by New York University (NYU). Within months the apartment house was gone, torn down to make way for NYU’s new law school. Imagine the sadness they must have felt, watching its destruction. Hans announced the change to friends and relatives with his 1950 holiday card. Before the couple moved out, however, Margret decided to preserve her memories of 42 Washington Square South by stitching them into a needlepoint wall hanging. Characteristically, Hans provided the design. Using graph paper, he sketched out a pattern for Margret to follow with her needle. 
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

        The framed wall hanging, along with Hans’ graph paper pattern, came to the de Grummond Collection as part of the Rey literary estate. Together they provide not only an historic record of their home with its Washington Square “front yard,” but also a glimpse into Margret’s heart and what she held dear. We can only wonder what her thoughts and feelings were as Hans’ design came to life with her needle and yarn. No doubt she had a memory for each stitch—the laughter of a close friend invited for dinner, their annual New Year’s Eve celebration, the day a contract arrived for her first solo book, Pretzel—memories stitched together to last her for a lifetime. She displayed the completed piece in their new apartment on Washington Place and later in the house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

        Margret was never prouder than the day she became a U. S. citizen in 1946 and that first small apartment on Washington Square symbolized that new life—her new life, her new beginning—as an author in her own right, as a New Yorker, as an American. 

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Park Book - Part Three

The Park Book by Charlotte Zolowtow,
illus. by H. A. Rey (Harper Brothers, 1944)
Did you notice Hans Rey sitting on the park bench by the fountain reading his paper in The Park Book – Part Two? Look for a bald-headed man in a brown suit.  There is another reason to look closely at this image. What else might you notice that would be out-of-the-ordinary in picture books published by the trade houses in 1944?  If you spotted the singular African American child at the fountain you would be on to something. 
Few illustrators in 1944 included African American children in their books; fewer still drew them without prejudice, in non-stereotypical fashion. Erick Berry and Ellis Credle come to mind as illustrators who represented African American children realistically, and not as “clowns or darky types” as Charlemae Hill Rollins noted in her book “We Build Together.”  As head of the children’s room at the South Side Branch of the Chicago Public Library, Rollins was concerned because most children’s books written in the 1940s featured “only the lower class and plantation Negro.” Too few, in her opinion, featured African Americans as the cultured professionals, educators, and artists she knew.
The Park Book by Charlotte Zolowtow,
illus. by H. A. Rey (Harper Brothers, 1944)
Making Rollins' point, Barbara Bader notes in "Negro Identification, Black Identity” (American Picture Books from Noah’s Ark to the Beast Within, Macmillan, 1976), that “If a single Negro child appeared in a picturebook—the little girl twice seen in The Park Book—it was cause for favorable comment” (p. 379).

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Park Book - Part Two

Perhaps the best known feature of Washington Square is its marble arch, modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris and erected in 1892 to honor our first president. However, if you were to ask the children of Greenwich Village which feature of the park they liked the best, most would probably say the fountain. The year 1852 marked the first fountain in the park, preceding the original wooden arch by 37 years. Today the fountain sits directly in front of the arch, in the middle of a plaza that is encircled by shade trees and benches. The scene looks very much much like it appears in The Park Book.
The Park Book by Charlotte Zolotow, illus. by Hans Rey
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1944

Ironically, that was not how the park was configured in 1944, when Hans Rey sat making his sketches. Unlike today, Fifth Avenue dissected the park, curving around the fountain on its eastern side. An aerial photograph taken in 1947, four years after The Park Book was published, illustrates the way the park was configured. Traffic through the park stopped in 1964 when Fifth Avenue was closed at Waverley Place (Washington Square North). Later, in 1995, the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission and the Washington Square Association voted to “shift the fountain into precise alignment with the arch as seen from Fifth Avenue.”
A 1995 New York Times article said the park’s redesign was needed to “level off the park’s quirky changes in elevation, replace a large plaza with lawn, and fix the fountain’s leaks.” That’s one explanation. I happen to think the members of the Landmark Preservation Commission and the Washington Square Association had read The Park Book as children and grew up picturing the park as Hans did in his imagination. Instead of drawing the park as it was in the 19th century, perhaps Hans Rey was creating a plan for what it could become in the 21st. What do you think? Visit the Washington Square Park blog to see aerial photographs of the park reconfigured according to Rey's design.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Park Book - Part One

The Park Book by Charlotte Zolotow, illus. by H. A. Rey,
Harper & Brothers, 1944

The Park Book, published in 1944, was a collaboration between neighbors. Charlotte Zolotow and her husband Maurice lived just a few blocks from Hans and Margret Rey’s Washington Square South apartment at 15 Washington Place. At the time Zolotow was employed as Ursula Nordstrom’s editorial assistant in the Department of Books for Boys and Girls at Harper & Brothers.
42 Washington Sq. South is depicted by the blue marker on the left.
Charlotte Zolotow's apartment was located at 15 Washington Place.
The red marker notes Ursula Nordstrom's apartment at 44 W. 10th.

1945 New York City Directory
     One day Zolotow wrote a memo to her boss, proposing an idea for a book about the park, and suggested that, perhaps, they could get Margaret Wise Brown to write it. Nordstrom’s reaction was less than favorable. As Leonard Marcus writes in Dear Genius, the legendary editor was known to use a variety of means “to coax authors toward perfection” (xxviii). In this case, she used a dare. According to Zolotow’s account, “After what seemed to be great irritation, Ursula asked her to expand on the memo. ‘Just what,’ she asked Charlotte, slightly combatively, ‘do you think is so special about the park?’ Charlotte elaborated on the memo, in writing... and was totally unprepared for Ursula's sudden appearance at her desk. 'Congratulations,' said Ursula to Charlotte. 'You've just sold your first children's book.'"
            Nordstrom paired Zolotow’s prose with Hans Rey’s art, himself a park devotee. Using a four-color palette, Rey’s illustrations captured Zolotow’s “observations of a bustling Washington Square and the changing activities and moods of the park from early morning until late at night” (Something About the Author, Vol. 138, p. 233). Saturday Review of Literature described their collaboration as “A gay picture book with a friendly rhythmic text that tells of a day in a city park that looks very much like Washington Square.”
            Part of the action includes Rey sketching by the fountain, as seen on the end pages, and in the playground with a young admirer looking on. A more formal Rey, dressed in a brown suit, sits reading his afternoon paper by the fountain. Not to be forgotten are Charcoal and Margret. I’ll leave it to you to spy them. Hint: Look on the end pages.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Washington Square Park

© Ann Mulloy Ashmore 2012
      “The Village is New York to me,” Hans once told a reporter for The Villager newspaper in 1962.  If Greenwich Village was their neighborhood, Washington Square Park was their front yard. It was where they walked their black cocker spaniel, Charcoal, where Hans sat and read his morning papers, where the couple greeted friends walking to and from shops and restaurants. In less than a year after their arrival in the United States, the couple had settled into an apartment located at 42 Washington Square South. Their front window faced the park with a view of the stately Greek Revival homes along its northern boundary and the Washington Arch, erected in 1889 from a design by noted architect,
© Ann Mulloy Ashmore 2012
Stanford White. Land for the park had been acquired by the city in 1795. Originally used as a Potter's Field, or burial ground for the poor, it was converted into a parade ground in 1826. Subsequently, New Yorkers began to build townhouses along its perimeter. The first fountain appeared in 1852, and over the years various statues and monuments have been added. Today the park serves as a "quad" for New York University (NYU) whose buildings, (noted in blue in the image below) almost completely surround it on three sides. In 1949, when NYU claimed the southwestern corner of  Washington Square South for its new law school, the Reys were forced to relinquish their park side home and move a few blocks away to 82 Washington Place.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

42 Washington Square South

McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

1945 New Years Card

“We came to the U. S. A. with the idea that it was a progressive and liberal country,” Margret Rey recalled shortly after the couple became citizens in 1946.  In the six years they had called New York home, the couple published twenty children’s books. 
“We had prepared ourselves for a difficult start,” Hans added,  “but fate was kind—within a month four of the manuscripts I had brought along were accepted for publication.”          
The Reys chose New York for several reasons. First, Margret’s sister, Mary Waldstein Eichenberg, and her husband had lived on Long Island since the mid-1930s. Second, Hans knew the city. Prior to immigrating to Rio de Janeiro, he spent several months working in the New York office of his brother-in-laws’ import-export firm. Finally, New York was the epicenter for trade publishing, and the Reys were determined to make their mark.
Within months of their arrival, the couple had found an apartment on Washington Square, in Greenwich Village. Like many authors and artists before them, the aesthetics of The Village—its irregular streets, classical architecture, diverse cultural life—seeped into their souls. Hans featured their third floor walk-up on South Square in the couple’s 1945 New Year’s card, and in a small sketch depicting its interior.
McCain Library and Archives
University of Southern Mississippi

Here they entertained family and friends, listened to music, argued over politics, chatted about movies and reviews in The New York Times. Ironically, their biggest success, the Curious George series, was with a Boston-based publishing house, Houghton Mifflin. Yet for nearly a quarter of a century, the Reys (and Curious George) roamed the streets of New York, rode its subways and buses, and called it home. George liked to ride on top of the bus. Don’t believe me? Re-read Curious George Takes a Job. You’ll see them all on 5th Avenue—George, riding the bus, Hans in a blue suit walking beside his friend and author, Jesse Jackson (Call Me Charley, 1945), and Margret with Charcoal, their black cocker spaniel, a little to the right greeting a four-legged friend.