H.A. Rey was born Hans Augusto Reyersbach in Hamburg, Germany on September 16, 1898. He received an old-style humanistic education and studied Latin, Greek, French, and English, but not art. He loved to draw, though, and did so from a young age.
Rey served in the German Army during World War I and was stationed in France and Russia.
In the early 1920's, he met Margarete Elisabeth Waldstein (the future Margaret Rey) at a party in her parents' home in Hamburg. He was dating her older sister at the time, and the first time he saw Margaret she was sliding down the banister!
Due to increasing inflation in Germany, Rey moved to Rio de Janeiro in 1924 to work as an accountant in his brother-in-law's import-export firm. Among other things, he sold sinks and bathtubs up and down the Amazon River for 12 years. He adopted the surname "Rey" during this period after the Brazilians began to address him that way because they had so much trouble pronouncing "Reyersbach".
Margarete Waldstein arrived in Rio in 1935, became reacquainted with Rey, and convinced him to leave the import-export firm. Together they formed the first advertising agency in Rio. They were married on August 16, 1935. H. A. found steady advertising work for Hoffman-La Roche, and also drew maps and posters, illustrated cookbooks, and designed Christmas cards for corporate clients.
The Reys took a belated honeymoon trip to Europe, where a planned two-week stay in Paris turned into four years. H. A. began to write and illustrate books while in Paris. His first English title, Zebrology was published in 1937. His first children's book, How the Flying Fish Came into Being followed in 1938. An editor at Gallimard saw Rey's drawings of a giraffe in a French magazine and suggested that he turn them into a children's book. Rafi et les 9 singes was published in 1939, follwed by a British version, Raffy and the 9 Monkeys. For the US version, Raffy's name was changed to Cecily G. (for "Giraffe"). One of the monkeys, named "Fifi", became a particular favorite of French children. His name was soon changed to "George", and the rest is history.
In June, 1940, the Reys left Paris on bicycle only hours before the Nazis entered the city. They took only warm coats, artwork, and manuscripts -- including Curious George. They sold their bicycles at the Spanish border and went on to Lisbon, Rio, and arrived in New York City in October 1940. Curious George was published the next year, and slowly became a children's classic. Editions have appeared in many languages, with George renamed "Zozo", "Bingo", "Nicke", "Coco", and "Piete", among others.
H. A. Rey also produced a series of music books for children in the 1940s, drawing on traditional French children's songs, Mother Goose rhymes, and Christmas carols.
Rey was also very interested in astronomy, so much that he took a star guide along during his service in World War I. He found most guides very difficult to use, and determined that he would produce a better one. In 1952, he published The Stars: A New Way to See Them; it was the result of more than four years' work, and has become the definitive star-watching guide. It is popular with laymen and professionals, and is still in print.
Curious George remains the best known of Rey's work, and it was followed by five George sequels:
The Reys' final book, published after the death of H. A., was Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World. It was originally submitted for publication to Harper and Brothers in 1942, but they returned it to the Reys with suggestions for revisions. The manuscript was discovered in 1999 in the Rey archive at the deGrummond Children's Literature Collection at the University of Southern Mississippi and published in 2000.