A parent's guide to Curious George books

My daughter and I are big fans of the Curious George books. They scratch a great storytelling itch for a preschooler, with plots just complex enough to be interesting but not too complex that she can’t understand them.

Unfortunately, the universe of published Curious George books is extremely confusing. I put this article together so that other parents searching for Curious George books don’t have to do the same research that I did.

There are, broadly speaking, three sets of Curious George stories: the “classic” Curious George, the “missing” stories, and the “new” stories. Each are very different.

Classic Curious George stories

There are only seven “classic” Curious George stories written and illustrated by Margret and H.A. Rey:

Book Stories
The Complete Adventures of Curious GeorgeCurious GeorgeCurious George Takes a JobCurious George Rides a BikeCurious George Gets a MedalCurious George Flies a KiteCurious George Learns the AlphabetCurious George Goes to the Hospital

If you were born in the 80s or earlier, these are probably the ones you remember reading as a kid. They’ve been collected over and over again in different editions, and are currently available as part of the 75th Anniversary edition, which comes with a gorgeous, albeit peculiar map of the Curious George world.

(Don’t do what we did and buy the leatherbound “Complete Adventures” collectible copy on display in Barnes & Noble. It has the map, and the leather binding is nice, but for some reason it omits Curious George Goes to the Hospital. So much for “complete”.)

Don’t be fooled by the fact that there’s only seven of them. As explained below, these are long stories. Indeed, they are also published as a set of single-bound paperbacks, which is a lot lighter than a single heavy hardcover binding. But you do miss out on the map.

“Missing” Curious George stories

Following H.A. Rey’s death, Margret Rey continued to write Curious George stories in collaboration with Alan Shalleck. These can be found on Alan Shalleck’s Amazon page, and include Curious George at the Airport, Curious George Plays Baseball, etc. Sadly, I don’t think these stories have ever been collected, and most of them are now out of print.

New Curious George stories

Starting in the late 90s, and following Margret Rey’s death, Houghton Mifflin commissioned ghostwriters to write new Curious George stories “in the style” of Margret and H.A. Rey. These stories (which, despite their covers, are neither written by nor illustrated by the Reys) are collected in four hardcovers:

Book Stories
The New Adventures of Curious GeorgeCurious George Goes to a Chocolate FactoryCurious George and the PuppiesCurious George Makes PancakesCurious George Feeds the AnimalsCurious George Goes to a MovieCurious George and the Hot Air BalloonCurious George in the SnowCurious George’s Dream
Curious George Stories to ShareCurious George and the FirefightersCurious George at the AquariumCurious George’s Dinosaur DiscoveryCurious George at the Baseball GameCurious George at the ParadeCurious George’s First Day of SchoolCurious George and the Pizza PartyCurious George Plants a Tree
A Treasury of Curious GeorgeCurious George Takes a TrainCurious George Visits a Toy StoreCurious George and the Dump TruckCurious George and the Birthday SurpriseCurious George Goes CampingCurious George Goes to a Costume PartyCurious George Visits the LibraryCurious George in the Big City
Busy Days with Curious GeorgeCurious George and the Ice Cream SurpriseCurious George Goes to the ZooCurious George Says Thank YouCurious George Saves His PenniesCurious George Visits the DentistCurious George Goes to a BookstoreCurious George Joins the TeamCurious George and the Sleepover

Like with the classic stories, these were also published as single-bound paperbacks: Curious George Around Town and Curious George The Monkey Collection. Frustratingly, the stories were reorganized, meaning that you can’t buy both the hardcovers and the paperbacks without some overlap in stories. Since these hardcovers are much lighter, we didn’t bother with the individual paperbacks.

Some of the stories were also abridged and turned into Curious George’s 5-Minute Stories. Although the stories have new titles, they are in fact just abridged and rewritten versions of the original stories, and we didn’t bother with them (particularly given the shabby reviews). Houghton Mifflin will be publishing Curious George’s 3-Minute Stories this fall, and I suppose it’s only a matter of time before 2-Minute and 1-Minute Stories arrive too.

Differences between Old and New Stories

The classic stories are very different from the new ones in a few ways.

  • The old stories are considerably longer. A single old story takes probably three to four times as long to read as one of the new ones.
  • The old stories are rather rambling. In my daughter’s favorite story, George escapes the zoo, rides a bus, steals spaghetti, becomes a dishwasher, becomes a window-washer, paints a room, escapes down a fire escape, breaks his leg, goes to the hospital, passes out from ether, and stars in a movie. By contrast, the new stories are much more tightly focused - for example, Curious George goes to the toy store and shenanigans ensue.
  • The old stories are noticeably dated. It was definitely tricky to explain to my daughter why George is smoking a pipe, what an ink blotter is, and why his soap comes in powder form instead of liquid.
  • Most importantly, there is a major tonal difference between the old stories and the new.
  • The old stories are true picaresques: George is a morally ambiguous protagonist that gets himself into trouble and has to be rescued by the Man in the Yellow Hat. For example, George calls the fire department and is sent to prison - but escapes, and faces no further consequences.
  • The new stories are much more moral: George (usually) still gets into trouble, but he is well-intentioned and is ultimately forgiven for his mischief when he ends up doing good (sometimes accidentally). For example, George accidentally activates a dump truck - but it turns out it creates a great island for the ducks. Or George releases a bunch of penguins from the zoo, but saves the baby penguin from drowning. Probably the most heavy-handed is Curious George Plants a Tree, where he learns about ecosystems and accidentally recycles too much. It’s a fine lesson, but certainly never would have been one of the “classic” George stories.

As nostalgic as I am for the older stories, I have to admit that they aren’t really better or worse - they’re just different. The most important difference is in fact their length - I usually read the old stories to my daughter when we have the time, and save the shorter ones for when we need something quicker.