This year marks 75 years that the world has loved a curious little monkey named George and his friend, the man in the yellow hat.
The seven original stories by H.A. and Margret Rey have sold nearly 75 million copies and are published in 16 languages including Afrikaans, Japanese, Chinese, Danish, and Norwegian. In addition to the Emmy-award winning PBS television series, Curious George has starred in three full-length films. The original story, published in 1941, has never been out of print and has delighted children all over the world for generations.
But we are actually lucky to have George in our lives at all.
In June 1940, Hans Augusto and Margret Rey, both German Jews, lived in Paris when France was invaded by the Nazis. Hans fashioned two bikes out of spare parts, allowing them to escape only hours ahead of the Nazis. Eventually they made their way to New York. Among the few things they took with them via their creative, make-shift bicycles was a manuscript of Curious George.
Obviously, today we can’t, as much as we might wish we could, bring home a monkey from Africa like the man in the yellow hat did back then, but something about these stories resonates with children even today.
What makes Curious George so endearing and so timeless?
Like most people and children, the Reys loved monkeys and animals. When they arrived in a new city, they often visited the zoo before any other sites.
Not only is George funny and mischievous, but we also subtly learn from him as we read. I would say that, especially we adults, have a lot to learn from George.
1. Curiosity Can Be Messy
There are few of the Curious George stories that don’t involve a mess.
Instead of reacting angrily as some of the adults do in the Curious George books, we could try a little more patience and understanding, like the man in the yellow hat. It’s just a mess. It can be cleaned up.
My twin toddlers love to flip through my grown-up, pictureless books to be like me, which is adorable, but I squirm seeing them handle my books without as much care as I’d like. Messes happen, and I don’t want to discourage them from loving books. They’ll learn to be more careful as they get older, but hopefully their love of books never goes away.
2. Curiosity Is Rarely Convenient
Sometimes George’s curiosity kicked in while he and the man in the yellow hat were running errands or doing important things.
As a parent, I have to allow my kids to follow their curiosity sometimes, even when it is inconvenient for me. It’s okay if we’re a little late to a play date if my toddlers are engrossed in a book we’ve already read a million times or are figuring out how stickers work–by sticking them all over me.
Calm down, and watch the magic happen when curiosity takes over.
3. Curiosity Often Means Making Mistakes
Every book includes George doing something wrong: taking something that doesn’t belong to him, making a mess, or distracting workers from their jobs.
Despite his best intentions or without meaning to, he makes mistakes. What’s especially admirable about George is that he always tries to correct his mistakes. If he could talk, I’d bet he would apologize as well.
The man in the yellow hat never chastised George for what he did wrong, but he always praised him for what he did right.
We are all still growing and learning. Mistakes are part of the journey, and most are made without malicious intent. Instead of reacting like many in the books, we could try giving others the benefit of the doubt and acknowledging when others try to make amends.
4. Curiosity And Mischief Can Lead To Happy Discoveries
In the Curious George series, every mistake comes with a happy accident. Yes, he angers the camera man at a baseball game, but he ends up finding a lost boy and using the camera to alert the little boy’s parents. Yes, he takes bananas from the zookeeper, but then he feeds the monkeys at the zoo and helps a little boy retrieve a balloon.
Most of the time, the person or people whom George frustrated thank him at the end of the book.
My twin toddlers are fascinated by shiny things like silverware. Although that curiosity can lead to disaster, like poking each other with their forks, it sometimes leads to fun and important discoveries, like how to eat with that same fork. I, as their mother, may have to weather the growing pains of discovery, but sometimes bad or simply annoying things can have good and happy consequences.
5. Curiosity Must Be Allowed To Happen
Let’s face it. Parents nowadays could never get away with the things the man in the yellow hat does with George. Who leaves their kids alone in an ice cream shop? Someone whose kids get taken away from them by CPS. But the concept somewhat still applies. Kids have to be allowed to explore, test things out, and be curious.
At parks, unless they ask for my help or want to show me something, I try to give my toddlers space to explore. I watch them closely to make sure they don’t try to eat things they find or beat each other with sticks, but I turn a figurative blind eye to most actions.
Somewhere along the spectrum between helicopter parenting and child abandonment, we can find a balance that encourages our kids’ creativity and imaginations while keeping them from destroying the world or getting abducted.
YouTube Channel: SJCPL Jr. at St. Joseph County Public Library
Featured image via Pinterest
h/t Curious George