I found the book The Journey that Saved Curious George by Louise Borden at the library, and borrowed it thinking it would be a good way of encouraging the children to think about stories as having authors and authors as having their own stories. It also opened up a way of talking again about World War II.
Margaret and H. A. Rey were both born in Hamburg, Germany to Jewish families. They both traveled to Brazil, acquired Brazilian passports and then moved to France. The book outlines that early history and then zooms in on their adventures trying to leave France. The book touches on fearful topics like fleeing from a city about to be occupied, sleeping in barns and highschool floors, and seeing posters for missing children. Yet the book also manages to keep a light-heartedness about it with real photos interspersed with cartoonish pictures. There’s a humorous mystery involving why the story keeps talking about a monkey called Fifi whose pictures look tremendously familiar.
The story leaves unspoken the relevance of their Jewish heritage to their need to flee. I like that because I can explain to them that the Jewish people were put in prison camps and killed, but I have no desire to emphasize to my 7 and 4 year old on exactly how badly treated the Jewish people were.
The style of pictures in H.A.Rey’s book reminds me of another book I have by The Adventures of Herge written by Bocquet and Fromental, about the author of Tintin cartoons. It is a comic book about him that I wish I could share with my children but cannot easily, since there are a number of very non-child friendly pages in that book. I have carefully shared with them selective parts of the book, about the role that scouting played in Herge’s life, or how during an early promotional stunt the actor playing Tintin ended up stuck holding someone’s apparently abandoned baby and other such stories. We’ve also talked some about how Herge continued to work during WWII and afterwards was blamed as a collaborator, and about the shortage of paper available for printing during WWII, a difficulty that the Rey’s faced as well.
Then there’s the book Pablo Picasso from the series Lives of the Artists. It isn’t as storiesh as The Journey that Saved Curious George, and its not a cartoon book like The Adventures of Herge, but since my children were introduced to Pablo Picasso in the story Lumpito, my four year old was interested in the Picasso book. I didn’t read it all out loud but we flipped through and looked at the pictures and talked about it. Picasso too lived through WWII. He remained in Paris during the German occupation, so we talked about how when the Rey’s were fleeing Paris, Picasso remained behind.
World War II might seem like a strange topic to talk to young children about but I’m hoping that approaching it through the lives of authors and artists will help the children to place both the people in history, and the war.
There’s another thing I’m hoping to do too. I’m hoping that by sharing with my children the idea that the authors have a time period and story of their own I’m laying the groundwork for talking about how those stories affect them. In the Tintin stories we can see the changes over Herge’s lifetime. In the Curious George stories we can talk about where he got some of his ideas. I want at some point for them to be able to see that looking at literature can be looking at two time periods at once: the time period the author is writing from and the time period they are writing about.
When I read the Bible or when I read books about the Bible, I know I’m studying two time-periods at once. I’m reading about the time in which the different sections of the Bible was written and about the time they were writing about. There were parts written during the exile about the times before the exile. The time they are writing about is in some ways a projection from the time they were writing from. The meanings can change if we know when the different sections are written, and naturally with a text as old and tremendous as the Bible there’s also the redactors. Is something telling us about the time period it was written about, the time period it was written in, or the time period of the editors?