He was a good little monkey…

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By Ginger Young, founder and executive director

Curious George holds a place of special honor at Book Harvest. He is beloved by our Book Babies families. When our volunteers come across one of his books as they sort donations, a collective murmur of approval spreads through the room. Curious George books are among the first to be harvested by our kids, classics to be treasured and read again and again.

The little monkey who dug into mischief at every turn fed my lifelong obsession with books. George, shadowed by the ever-jovial man in the yellow hat, shaped my early delight at a good story, at a protagonist who was irresistible, at the vital role of curiosity in a life well lived.

But my own relationship with George goes much further. When I was in grad school, I had the vast good fortune to count myself as a dear friend of his co-creator, Margret Rey. Margret rocked my world with her intense creativity and her wisdom — and, yes, her curiosity. I cherished her friendship, and I still do.

0e9a8a5b72de69527a854f3aa63b9957_originalI knew from hours of conversation prior to her death in 1996 that Margret’s and her husband Hans’ story upstaged even George’s antics for sheer drama. German Jews living in Paris, they fled Hitler’s troops on bikes that they cobbled together with odds and ends, carrying with them an early manuscript of the first Curious George book. Their odyssey, filled with harrowing twists and turns, eventually led them to New York.

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Filmmaker Ema Ryan Yamazaki

Finally, a filmmaker is making a multimedia documentary film to share the story of Margret, Hans, and George. Ema Ryan Yamazaki has combed through 300 boxes of archival material to piece together the Reys’ story. You can read about Ema’s amazing project in the New York Times here and on Kickstarter here.

Even today, 20 years after her death, Margret’s influence on my world remains outsized. The Curious George Fund of Combined Jewish Philanthropies provided the startup funds that enabled Book Harvest to launch its Book Babies program in 2013. Today the program, which combines literacy coaching home visits with home libraries starting at birth, is 220 families strong and is filled with bright, curious young children who are poised to succeed in school and beyond.

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One of our Book Babies, pictured with his mom–and Curious George!–at our summer celebration at the library

George gave the Book Babies program its start, and his and Margret’s legacy will live on in this new generation of children who, like me and my own children, are smitten with his shenanigans. I am excited to share the story of his creators with these children when Ema’s film comes to fruition. It is a story that, like George, will capture their imaginations and their hearts.

Thank you, George!