Together, Hans and Margaret Rey created Curious George. He drew the illustrations, she wrote the text.
"They created Curious George volumes through the 1960s, and then they thought their work was done," said Anita Silvey, their longtime publisher.
Hans died in 1977, Margaret in 1996. Now, four years after her death, it turns out the Reys left behind an unknown treasure. And the story behind it is almost as curious as the little monkey.
It begins in the summer of 1940 in Paris, Franceno place for German Jews.
"Hans cobbled together some bikes from parts. There were no ways out of the city by that point," said Silvey.
With the Nazis on their heels, the Reys pedaled out of town with the clothes on their back "and what was in their minds, obviously. They were artists, they were creators, and they fled with all they really had," Silvey said.
Their only possessions, it was believed, were manuscripts for four books, including the original Curious George.
The Reys settled in Massachusetts and continued to write as the legacy of Curious George grew. They began to donate much of their original work to the children's literature collection at the University of Southern Mississippi.
"And in 1988, Margaret gave us a large collection of production materials, and a number of unpublished materials," said Dee Jones, Curator of the De Grummond Children's Literature Collection at the U. of Southern Mississippi.
They were all unfinishedexcept for the story of a penguin who wanted to see the world, but instead landed here, packed away in a box. It was finally discovered at an exhibit of the Reys' work a year ago.
"There was a fabulous drawing in there of a seal and a penguin, and it had a label under it from their unpublished work, Whiteblack the Penguin," recalled Silvey. "And I said to the curator, Dee Jones, 'That's a beautiful drawing,' and she said, 'Would you like to see the whole thing?'"
Silvey expected to find perhaps two or three pages that were fully done, and then some sketches and so forth. But this was a complete manuscript.
"Inside that front cover, in his writing, was Hans Rey and his Paris address, and I suddenly was touching something that had to come with them out of Paris," recalled Silvey.
The unpublished treasure had been finished before the war. It was a complete book with a new character, Whiteblack, the penguin.
Instead of four manuscripts, it turns out the Reys had brought five with them.
Whiteblack is an announcer for WONS radiothat's "snow" spelled backwardsand traels the world to find stories for his show. (Interestingly, Whiteblack speaks in the book and whereas Curious George never spoke in his books.)
Some 60 years after the Reys created the little penguin, Whiteblack has come to life. The book is being published for the first time this month.
"They used to say 'Our books are our children.' That's why I say I feel like I discovered somebody they locked up in the orphanage," Silvey said.
Now children who know the monkey are getting to know his friend the penguin, the one they never knew existed.