Okay, first, a little context -- my mom got Rutabaga the 7 book set of the "Original Flavor" Curious George books, the ones written by H.A. and Margaret Rey. At first I was like "ugh those books about monkey kidnapping." And yeah, there's gender issues up the wazoo -- basically women are only outside if they have kids in tow, all the nurses are female and all the doctors are male, etc etc. And once George moves to suburbia there's basically only white people.
H.A. Rey's artwork is amazing and does a really good job of capturing the scenes of the time, and original flavor George is chaotic neutral -- as in, there isn't a neat moral that goes with every story. George is curious, George does things, and then sometimes something bad happens and all the fun is gone. But then sometimes something else happens and then things are okay? Also: Curious George Learns the Alphabet is one of the best alphabet books I've seen.
So why do I love Curious George Takes a Job (book 2 of 7) in particular?
For that, let's start here:
In book 1 ("Curious George"), George gets taken out of the Jungle, has some shenanigans on the ship and in the city that he's in, and then there's a moment when he grabs some balloons and flies up into the sky...
In book 2, George escapes from the Zoo with the help of his elephant friend and then goes into the city:
... these are 2 very different cities. In fact, one could say that the first one is Paris and the second one is New York. What happened? From Wikipedia:
Hans and Margret were German Jews. The couple first met in Hamburg [...] they met again in Brazil, where Hans was working as a salesman of bathtubs and Margret had gone to escape the rise of Nazism in Germany. They married in 1935 and moved to Paris in August of that year. [...]
The outbreak of World War II interrupted their work. Being Jews, the Reys decided to flee Paris before the Nazis invaded the city. Hans assembled two bicycles, and they left the city just a few hours before it fell. Among the meager possessions they brought with them was the illustrated manuscript of Curious George. [...]
They crossed the Spanish border, where they bought train tickets to Lisbon. From there they returned to Brazil, where they had met five years earlier, but this time they continued to New York.
So yes -- the first Curious George book was written in 1941 and set in Paris, while the second Curious George book was written in 1947 and set in New York. The first one was written as a one-shot, while the second one is written to be part of a larger series, and artistically, it goes a long way to establishing the visuals and tropes of the series. In the first book, the man with the yellow hat wears short sleeves?!!! And George is super off-model! The "Don't be curious or you'll get into trouble" line, the "monkeys have special agility" trope, the"George gets into trouble but in the end everyone shows up and it's all right" framework are all from book 2.New York 1940s
I have a vested interest in New York in the 1940s due to a certain Steve Rogers character, and I love the little glimpses that H.A. Rey captures. If you peer at the spread above, there's a soda fountain, there's a milk delivery truck, there's sailors stepping into a pipe shop, there's two boys peering into a book store, there's a horse-drawn carriage and a police motorcycle and a guy pedaling probably an ice cream thing? There's people of color and women, and everything just feels so alive.
It has this great line: "So they went down into the subway and took an uptown train to the cook's friend, who was an elevator man in a skyscraper."
Look at the turnstile! The ad in the bg!( I should probably cut here for length lol )Curious George misses his home
This is also the only book that acknowledges that George is from the Jungle and misses it. In book 1, George is mostly having fun in the city, but here...
He paints a room to be more like his home:
And then after people start chasing him, he decides to jump down to escape, and: "Poor little George! He had forgotten that the pavement was hard as stone... not like the soft grass of the jungle"
And finally, the moment where his home is sanitized for the American audience: "In the studio George was kept so busy all the time that he forgot to be curious. He liked the jungle they made for him and played happily there."
In the following books, he's pretty integrated into his American home and family and friends, and the jungle is never brought up again, but I love that in this book, George misses his home, has a hard time adjusting, and would take any kind of solace, even if it's a crappy studio facsimile of the jungle.
I'm probably reading too much into it, but it was also 1947 and HA and Margaret Rey had been living in New York for 6 years. An this, Book 2 of 7 is the only one where he misses the jungle.Artistic experimentation
I feel like this book has some really cool artistic experimentation. Later on they kind of settle into a solid "picture book" style, but here we have some cool narration happening in an almost comic-book sort of way. Look at this lovely bit:
The line of action going from the interior room to the hallway to the fire escape, with the main people chasing, the curious heads popping out of their apartments, and the giant arrow pointing to the fire escape. (The other page of the chase scene is also great.)
And of course, the mysterious ether scene: ( this page is a bit tall, so a cut )
Anyway, I love Curious George Takes a Job! I'm going to end with a shot from the second-to-last page:
THEY'RE HOLDING HANDS EEEEEEEE