In 1940, Margaret and H.A. Rey came to America to flee the Nazi invasion. When the Jewish couple arrived they had little more than the clothes on their backs and drawings they hoped to use in children's books.
One of the characters in their drawings was a little monkey named Curious George. The Reys published their first book about the adventures of the famous character in 1941.
"The Reys decided that they were going to create an animal character who embodied all the best of childhood antics, someone who was fearless, who could go right to the brink of something, who wasn't afraid of making a mess," Jeff Harrison, a curator at the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, Va., explained.
"Fortunately for George, and for most kids too, there's always a man in the yellow hat that is a grown-up who will show up and pull you back from the brink and clean up the mess," he said.
"So George is basically a stand in for all kids who have curiosity and energy and want to have fun!" he said.
The response to the books was so great that the couple quickly published 29 more stories. George became an American phenomenon that has withstood the test of time.
But most people don't know the story of how Curious George helped save the Reys.
When the Nazis began their invasion of Europe, the Reys knew that their lives were in danger. They left Paris only days before the city was occupied.
Now, an exhibit at the Chrysler Museum documents the Rey's journey.
"They were stopped by the authorities more than once who questioned them," Harrison said. "Being Jewish, they were in mortal danger of being arrested there and sent to Germany."
"But they would open their suitcases and the authorities would see children's book illustrations and assume 'Oh, they're harmless! Let them go on their way.' So, Curious George actually did save the day for them," Harrison said.
The books show how the Reys were able to build their own adventures into their stories about Curious George. But what many say is remarkable is the couple's ability to capture childhood innocence in a time of darkness.
"I think it's really valuable to know what these folks went through because it leads you to an even deeper appreciation of the miracle of the art they created," Harris told CBN News.
"Life is tenuous; things are hard, often dangerous, and yet out of that comes 30 books of pure joy," he marveled. "I think it's important to know where these things sprang from."
For more information about the Chrysler Museum exhibit click here.