Wartime Escape Exhibit Opens at YDL-Whittaker

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Wartime Escape:  Margret and H.A. Rey’s Journey from France opened March 26 at the Ypsilanti District Library, 5577 Whittaker Road.  More than three generations of Americans have grown up reading the stories of an irrepressible little brown monkey known in this country as “Curious George.” But few people know about the incredible journey made by his creators, Margret and H.A. Rey, to escape the Nazi invasion of Paris at the start of World War II. Stashing a few precious belongings and manuscripts in their knapsacks and the baskets of their bicycles, the Jewish couple fled Paris in June 1940, starting a five-month odyssey by bike, train, and boat that would eventually bring them to American shores.

Beginning in the years prior to the war, The Wartime Escape explores the Reys’ early creative collaborations and traces how the story of George himself (originally titled The Adventures of Fifi) spanned the wartime period. The monkey emerged as a character in one of the Reys’ pre-World War II stories, and the manuscript that became Curious George was already in progress by 1939. However, wartime constraints on printing as well as the general turmoil of the period prevented the original contract from being fulfilled. When the Reys were forced to flee Paris along with thousands of other refugees in advance of the German occupation, the manuscript and illustrations for the book were among the few personal possessions that they managed to take with them. Escaping via Spain and Portugal, then across the Atlantic to Brazil, the Reys finally reached the United States in October 1940. A month later, they received a new contract from Houghton Mifflin for The Adventures of Fifi, later re-titled The Adventures of Curious George.

You are invited to attend a special exhibit opening Spring Fête on Saturday, April 14 from 2-4 pm to view the exhibit, have refreshments, and celebrate French culture.  Throughout the run of the exhibit, YDL will host special programs:  a screening of Curious George, the movie; storytimes featuring Curious George stories; and a craft where you create your own book with illustrations.

The exhibition features 27 framed art prints by artist Allan Drummond and supplemental archival images from the holdings of the DeGrummond Collection of Children’s Literature at the University of Southern Mississippi. The exhibition is based in part on the 2005 publication, The Journey that Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey, written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond (Houghton Mifflin Company, New York). The exhibition is organized and curated by Beth Seldin Dotan, Director of the Institute for Holocaust Education in Omaha, Nebraska

The exhibition is toured by ExhibitsUSA, a national program of Mid-America Arts Alliance. The Friends of the Ypsilanti District Library’s generous support made the exhibit’s visit to Ypsilanti possible. The exhibit will be open to the public during the library’s open hours.

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