KEESEVILLE - When George "Speedy" Arnold III and Maureen Akey graduated from Keeseville's Our Lady of Grace Academy together in 1970, they probably didn't expect to be writing and illustrating a children's book nearly 40 years later.
The two Keeseville natives joined forces in 2008 to produce "Molly: A Butterfly's Story," the first in a series entitled "Molly the Monarch Butterfly and Friends," released in January.
The book, targeted for beginner readers, is the second one illustrated by Arnold, who somehow finds time for artwork in between his time school bus driving, running his family's convenience store, and working as the town's tax assessor.
"As long as I have a little bit of downtime and a pen, I'm going to be sketching," he said.
Growing up on her family's farm on Cold Springs Road, Akey developed an interest in living things, particularly butterflies. She later moved to Melrose, Fla. where she teaches biology at a local college. She also puts on butterfly-themed puppet shows, which became the basis for her first children's book.
"When I was home on a visit, I stopped in [at Arnold's] to discuss the idea," recalled Akey. "We sat around his kitchen table and I presented the book draft, some ideas for drawings, and he agreed to try it."
The two worked across the 1,800-mile divide to coordinate images with words. After nine months of back-and-forth ideas, the story of Molly the Monarch Butterfly was finally brought to life.
"Somehow, he was able to transform all my definite ideas for what I wanted for images and create the perfect sketch to capture the essence of the spirit of the story," said Akey, "He also contributed wonderful drawings from his imagination as well."
Both Akey and Arnold recalled indications of each other's hobbies and interests from their grade school days.
"She loved horses and was always really tuned into the environment," said Arnold, "so it's interesting how she became a biology professor."
"He was a great kid," said Akey. "I have to laugh, because while we all think nowadays how great his talent is, you have to understand that Speedy was frequently reprimanded by the nuns for drawing pictures in his notebooks when he was supposed to be paying attention."
Arnold's first work as an illustrator was on another children's book, "The Little Brook in the Field," by Keeseville resident Jim Goff, another former OLGA classmate.
"It's about making other people's ideas come to life," said Arnold. "The words are great, but when you put them with a picture, it's a whole different ballgame."
Both books are available for sale at Arnold's store, along with several of Arnold's original works of art. Arnold said the addition of Akey's book has drawn more business for his other artwork.
Though the book series centers around the life cycle and behavior of butterflies, Akey said it also offers lessons on problem solving, cooperation, mathematical skills, and caring for the environment.
"The feedback from teachers and educators that have bought the book is that they're using it as a teaching tool as well as for enjoyment," said Arnold.
Arnold indicated that he is looking forward to illustrating future books in the series, and may even try authoring a book on his own. For now, however, he hopes the books he has illustrated up to this point will have a meaningful impact on young readers.
"I hope they enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed drawing them," he said.