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By Georgetta L. Morque

Four-year-old classmates at Rye Presbyterian Nursery School watched their favorite storybook characters come to life when Mary O’Keefe Young, illustrator of the “Curious George” books, paid a special visit on January 16.

Young, who grew up in Larchmont, has illustrated 22 “Curious George” books — the original illustrator was H.A. Rey — and has collaborated on 15 “Biscuit the Puppy” books. Since her first published picture book in 1984, she has illustrated 70 books for children.

Beaming with enthusiasm, the children were ready with questions for their visitor, who arrived in a red Curious George T-shirt, and armed with her favorite Curious George books, along with a board for drawing and markers to demonstrate her craft.

What do you draw with? How do you make the man’s yellow hat? How long does it take to draw a book? These were only some of the many questions posed by the children.

Young explained that she starts drawing with a pencil and sometimes crayons and then paints the picture with watercolors. To draw the yellow hat, she begins with a cone shape and then draws a wide brim. She usually completes a page in one day. A book typically takes two to three months. “The more I draw, the easier it becomes,” said Young who has loved to draw since childhood.

After reading two “Curious George” stories, Young drew on her board, allowing the children to guess what her picture would be as she started to form shapes. For her new book, which will be about Curious George swimming, she asked the class for help. After drawing an ocean for the setting, Young drew the popular monkey in scuba gear and then let the children decide what else should be in the picture. A wide array of underwater creatures, from a jellyfish to a seahorse, burst on the scene.

“It’s important that these experiences happen for the children,” said Margaret Sculti, Rye Presbyterian Nursery School Co-Director. “The children are learning about illustrations and books and making books with their own stories and drawings. It helps the curriculum come alive.”

Photo: Children’s book illustrator Mary O’Keefe Young with Mary Szamborski’s and Angela O’Keefe’s four-year old class at Rye Presbyterian Nursery School

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