Monkey business reaches starry heights
WATERVILLE VALLEY, N.H. - To children, a trip to an author’s house is usually as appealing as a side helping of broccoli. But when the residence is the former summer cottage of Margret and H.A. Rey, creators of “Curious George,’’ well, that’s a monkey of a different color.
The Reys’ Manhattan apartment was anything but conducive to Margret’s love of gardening and H.A.’s passion for astronomy, so in 1958 the couple built their White Mountain retreat. They instantly became a part of the Waterville Valley community, even welcoming local children into their studios as they dreamed up new adventures for their inquisitive simian.
“Mr. Rey, as the kids called him, would have either a picture of a man drawing or a picture of a man sleeping on his studio door,’’ says Audrey Eisenhauer, executive director of the nonprofit Margret and H.A. Rey Center, which manages the cottage today. “If the picture was of the man drawing, then kids could knock and come in. He would sketch pictures and give them to the kids.’’
The Reys’ cozy red bungalow, which last year completed a move from its original location off the fourth tee of the Waterville Valley Golf Club, still opens its doors to youngsters - and adults as well. The front porch of the Curious George Cottage has walls nearly as golden as the garb worn by George’s friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, while the living room’s picture windows perfectly frame the peak of Mount Tecumseh, streaked with ski trails.
Unlike at most writers’ homes, a visit to the cottage is anything but a hands-off experience. Young fans can grab Curious George titles off the bookshelves and curl up on the pint-sized couch with stuffed versions of their favorite monkey. Budding illustrators can pick up crayons and try to stay inside the lines coloring George and his friends, and there are Curious George board games and toys, too.
An astronomical observatory behind the cottage was completed this summer, giving everyone a chance to enjoy its view of the cosmos. In addition, the nearby Curious George Nature Trail offers children a little loop through the woods.
“The Reys were a hub of creative energy when they lived here in Waterville Valley,’’ Eisenhauer says. Their spirit of discovery is alive and well in the work of the Rey Center, which hosts programs for children and adults, including painting workshops, nature walks, book clubs, overnight adventures on Mount Tecumseh, stargazing nights, lectures, and children’s theatrical performances.
In the village square, the Rey Center operates a space filled with Curious George books, puzzles, games, and coloring sheets that can be a welcome haven for families needing a break from the resort’s great outdoors. During story times, children sink into bean bag chairs and listen to the tales of Curious George and other books written by the Reys, while adults browse the authors’ original artwork and the rotating gallery exhibits.
Next weekend, Aug. 13-14, Waterville Valley will host a veritable George-a-Palooza as the annual Curious George Cottage Festival takes over. Families can dine with Curious George and the Man with the Yellow Hat, including at a breakfast featuring, of course, banana pancakes. The Curious George Cottage will host story times, while the Rey Center will have cartoon viewings and popcorn.
In addition, there will be nature discovery walks, planetarium shows, a banana eating contest, petting zoo, and live music including Boston-based Vanessa Trien and the Jumping Monkeys. And at night, movies will be shown underneath the same heavens that once lured a husband and wife to the White Mountains.
Christopher Klein can be reached at www.christopherklein.com.