Hans Augusto Reyersbach was born on September 16, 1898, in Hamburg, Germany. As a child he liked to draw and spent much of his free time at the nearby zoo. Though enrolled in a "Humanitarian Gymnasium" to study languages and humanities, Rey also devoted many moments of class time sketching in his notebooks. He thought his teachers didn't notice, but he later found out that they didn't want to discourage his talent. After school at age eighteen, Rey found himself drafted into the Army during World War I. As part of the infantry and medical corps, Rey saw action in France and Russia. By the war's end, Hamburg's economic state suffered and without steady employment Rey discovered he couldn't afford to enroll in an art school.
By lithographing circus posters, Rey scraped by and studied at the University of Hamburg and the University of Munich. A fluent speaker of four languages, Rey nonetheless couldn't support himself in Hamburg's increasingly depressed environment. Accepting a job from a relative in Brazil, Rey ventured across the ocean to sell bathtubs for an import business. He didn't like the work, and taking the advice of another Hamburg resident living in Brazil, Rey partnered together with her to make an advertising agency.
The couple found they worked well as a team and soon married. Margaret Waldstein blended her education in art, photography, and writing with Rey's drawing ability. They traveled to Paris for a honeymoon they intended to last a couple months, and instead, they stayed for several years. The Reys published a book called Cecily G. and the Nine Monkeys which led to a later emphasis on one monkey, Curious George. However, when the Nazis were very close to taking over Paris, the Reys fled on bicycles Rey had made, fearful for their lives as they were both Jewish. Along their four day trip, the police arrested and interrogated them, believing them to be spies. Curious George saved them. After poring over the manuscripts Rey had with him, the police discovered tales of a curious monkey. The sense of humor and playfulness with which the stories had been written and drawn led the police to dismiss the couple and let them go on their way to Lisbon, Portugal.
From Lisbon to Brazil and onto the United States, the Reys then settled in New York. Within a month the publishers Houghton Mifflin bought four manuscripts, including the extremely successful Curious George. In all, the Reys developed seven adventures for the monkey. Rey also contributed to the advancement of astronomy by creating new diagrams of constellations seen by the naked eye in a suburban setting. Relating the constellations to cartoonish characters, Rey encouraged children to find and remember them. The two books became successful, and Rey's diagrams appeared in many guides for astronomy.
Moving from New York to Massachusetts, Rey took up teaching astronomy at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. He didn't publish many books after 1963 but the books the Reys did create have remained popular and in print. On August 26, 1977, H. A. Rey passed away, after spending over thirty years of his life as an illustrator and author.
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