Thursday, September 25, 2008

This children's book would never be accepted by any publisher in America today. And that would have been the end of it.

It's from the first one, Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey. We all know the illicit story that begins with chimp smuggling and ends with everyone laughing about the naughty shenanigans the little beast was so curious about. The Little Ditchman picked the original up at the library last week. We sat down to read it together, and this father had raised eyebrows all the way through. When that nameless cypher, The Man with the Big Yellow Hat, (and a shotgun) shows up in the jungles of Africa to remove the monkey from his happy life in the trees and stuffs him in a sack and hauls him off to the Big City, well, I was dying to see what happened next!

The illustrations are truly wonderful. Of course, in today's world, they would never fly with a story like that. Eventually, the monkey crank calls the firemen who arrive not as civic heroes, but as an overstaffed Keystone Humane Society:

I suppose that, more or less, this is the moral of the story: Don't crank call the firemen! Otherwise, you know what will happen to you...

But George escapes! He jumps the dimwitted cel watchman and bolts out the door, up onto the roof, and absconds out of the prison grounds via the telephone wires, "quickly and quietly over the guard's head" it reads.

And then...

Why there's a man selling balloons to little girls right outside the prison wall is not answered, but anyway, having not served his full sentence and achieving no semblance of rehabilitation, the curious monkey immediately steals the balloons. The balloons, as is the custom of fairy tale physics, swiftly lift George into the air and carry him up and over the Big City, where he is finally found by the Man with the Yellow Hat. You'll be glad to know that in the end the Man goes back and pays the guard for the balloons.

Here's the happy ending:

And that's it. What a happy place! Far better than the wilds they came from, free to choke on deflated latex and strangle themselves with discarded bits of string, the animals -not being bothered with that pointless separation in cages according to continent or specie stuff- live out their happy days.

The Jewish authors, the Reys, fled Paris and escaped the Nazis in June, 1940. They had the original manuscript in their luggage, which was strapped to the bicycles they rode off on, mere hours before the tanks rolled down the Champs-Elysees. They eventually made it to America, lost contact with their original French publisher, and today there are a hundred spin-off books written by child-sensitive literary analysts and painted by corporate artists, as well as the movies and PBS series (with the disclaimer about being overly-curious) and the video games and water park at Universal Studios Florida and, of course, the car seat covers.

In 1989 Margaret Rey established the Curious George Foundation to help creative children and prevent cruelty to animals.

Things change. Makes you wonder how badly we're screwing up our kids today and not even realizing it.