Let me tell you a story:
Once upon a time in the 1930’s, two German Jews met in Brazil1. Their names were Hans and Margaret. Hans and Margaret falled in love. Then they got married. And then they went on their honeymoon to Paris and decided not to come home, because they loved Paris so much.
But then came the war, old sport2! And as Jews in Paris, Hans and Margaret knew they were in trouble. As the Nazis assembled at French borders, they tried to get out. But twenty-four hours ahead of the Nazis, there were no trains. No cars. No bikes. People were fleeing on foot. But Hans managed to rustle up a bunch of random bike parts and built him and Margaret a tandem bike. Then they put on their winter coats, packed two manuscripts in their backpack, and biked out of Paris. They slept in fields and barns for a few weeks, just ahead of the Nazis, until they reached the French border, where they discover that only select people are being let through into…whatever country they were trying to get to. A country that borders France and is not Germany. Hans and Margaret cross their fingers and pray they will be let through.
So they get to the border, and a border patrol officer stops them and starts asking them questions. He asks Hans what he does for a living, and Hans replies, “I write and illustrate children’s books.” The guard says, “Dude, that’s pretty cool.” And Hans says, “Yeah, I like it.” The guard says, “I have a kid.” Hans says, “Really?” and the guard says, “Yeah, really,” and Hans says, “Hey man, that’s really cool3.” The guard says, “Let me read one of your books,” and Hans says, “I just happen to have this one I wrote about a monkey,” and whips out the manuscript he carried from Paris4. The guard reads it, and he laughs. Then he tells Hans, “This books is super awesome. My kid would love this.” Then he thinks for a minute, and says, “That book was really awesome, and you have passports, so I’m going to let you over the border.”
And with just hors to spare, Hans and Margaret make it out of France and escape to America, all because of Hans’s manuscript.
Once in America, they meet a woman named Grace, who works for Houghton Mifflin, my favorite publishing house. Hans says, “Hey I got this book about a monkey who is always getting up to mischief named Fifi that got me out of France when the Nazis came. Do you want to publish it?”
Grace, with her discerning eye and sharp intellect, says, “I think this is a pretty stellar book, and I’d like to publish it.”
Hans says, “That is awesome, because I have no money.”
Grace says, “Okay, but I’ve just got one change.”
Hans says, “Yeah, anything, what do you want to change?”
And Grace says, “Instead of Fifi, can we call him George?”
And that his the story of how Curious George came to be.
Moral of the story: children’s books save lives and stop Nazis5.
- This story is not about me, if you couldn’t figure that out.
- Just reread Gatsby. I am petitioning hard core to unironically reintroduce the phrase “old sport” into our vernacular.
- This conversation has been recreated for dramatic purposes. He might not have said exactly this.
- Because any good author never misses a chance to whip out his manuscript.
- My professor told this story today in class. And basically, it blew my mind. So I needed to share it. That is all. Go back to your knitting.