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Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Journey That Saved Curious George, written by Louise Borden and illustrated by Allan Drummond. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Thomas Allen. 2005. $10.99 ages 8 and up

"The Reys sketched and photographed the fishermen along the banks of the Seine...
the captains and their families who lived on the local barges...
the booksellers on the quays who, each morning, unlocked their wooden boxes and sold secondhand books to those who passed by...
and of course, the animals in the zoo."

Since reading and admiring her research for His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, I have been watching for other books that might add to the admiration that I already feel for this accomplished author and historian. My interest in picture book biography has led me to find some truly wonderful books and I have just added this one to my list, although it was published seven years ago. What drew me to the story of Mr. Wallenberg is exactly what led me to learn more about the Reys and their time in Europe during WWII. The common denominator is the fine writing of Louise Borden.

Curious George stories were not favorites in our house, but we read them and then I shared them with some of my classrooms through the years. They have been with us for seventy years and that is some accomplishment, isn't it?

In this well-written and detailed book I learned so much more about the creators than I have ever known, and I admired their need to tell their stories and to protect their work as they struggled to find their way out of Europe at the height of the Nazi domination. They were living in occupied France at the time, and sorrowfully made the decision that they would have to leave their home and their many belongings, trusting that someone might get it to safety once they did the same.

Imagine two German-born Jews being able to escape, first to France and then on a long journey that eventually led to life in New York City. Louise Borden was as persistent in collecting information about the Reys as Hans was in recording notes about their books, their journey and their lives. She allows us to journey with them through harrowing times on bicycle, train and ship to make their way to safety and success.

The author includes a large quantity of archival material, including photographs, passports, diary pages, manuscript notes, illustrations, and their means of travel. Allan Drummond adds style and color in his accompanying artwork. There is much to know about the Reys, and it is carefully packaged so as not to overwhelm the intended audience. Their love of animals and each other is evident in the many personal entries included, and the stories shared. Readers will come away from the reading having enjoyed the adventure and having learned about war-torn Europe, the exacting and exciting life of two accomplished artists, and even something about the world of book publishing.

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