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de Grummond
Children's Literature Collection
 
 

The Unlikely Journey of a 63-Year-Old Penguin
from Paris, France to Hattiesburg, Mississippi

The fact that Houghton Mifflin recently published Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World, a children's book by H.A. Rey, may not seem unusual, but the story behind the book's publication is a fascinating tale. You might ask how does the manuscript for a children's book created in Paris in 1938, transported to New York in 1940, and stored in an attic in Cambridge, Massachusetts for nearly 60 years finally arrive in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, only to be discovered and returned to Boston for publication? The manuscript creators were H.A. and Margret Rey, best known for their Curious George series. When the Reys were living in Paris in the late 1930s, they created a number of children's books, some of which were published before they emigrated to the United States. In 1940, they fled Paris by bicycle hours before the German army took control, carrying with them only warm clothes and unpublished manuscripts. Months later, when they finally settled in New York, they contacted Grace Hogarth, founder of Houghton Mifflin's children's book department. Based on the work they presented to her, she offered them a four-book contract, unheard of at the time. The year 1941
H. A. Rey, in the late 1930's holding the manuscript for Whiteblack the Penguin Sees
the World
saw the publication of Curious George, and children's literature hasn't been the same since. In 1966 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Dr. Lena Y. de Grummond was in the early stages of assembling a research collection of children's literature, where students and scholars could see the creative process involved in the creation of children's books. She contacted hundreds of children's literature authors and illustrators for donations and was rewarded with shipments of original manuscripts and illustrations. A charmingly illustrated letter was received from H.A. Rey on April 20, 1966, followed by a donation of two original illustrations used in Curious George. The donations from the Reys continued over the years, and after Margret Rey's death in 1996, the de Grummond Collection received their remaining literary archive as a provision of her will. Within the Rey archive there are a number of illustrated manuscripts for books that have never been published. One particularly fine item, "Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World," was discovered in the archive and is a superb example of Rey's early work that utilized a French watercolor style. In September 1999, an extensive exhibit -- Curious George Comes to Hattiesburg: The Work of H.A. and Margret Rey -- was created and shown in Hattiesburg through April 2000. Among the more than 700 items in the exhibit were several pages from "Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World." These outstanding illustrations caught the trained eye of Anita Silvey, longtime editor and publisher of the Reys' work. After viewing the entire manuscript, she knew there was a fresh "new" book waiting to be published. Now, sixty-three years after its creation, Whiteblack the Penguin Sees the World has been published and has met with critical acclaim. The book is now in its fourth printing and received a great deal of national attention when it hit the bookstores last August. An interview with Anita Silvey was broadcast on National Public Radio, there were stories in major newspapers, and the CBS Early Show featured a segment on the discovery of the manuscript and its subsequent publication.
 

Contact:
The de Grummond Children's Literature Collection
Box 5148
Hattiesburg, MS 39406
(601) 266-4349
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