Roy McKie was born in Medford, Massachusetts in 1921, and he was the oldest of four boys growing up. Oftentimes, he could be found sitting at the dining room table drawing. Whenever his grandparents dropped by, his grandfather would question Roy's pursuit in drawing. Roy recalls his grandfather saying to his mother "Marian, the boy's never going to get a job in that kind of business." Although his grandfather questioned his hobby, both his parents—neither of whom were artists—supported his interests. His mother was a primary-school teacher, and his father worked as a gate man for the Boston and Maine Railroad after returning home from the First World War—where he was drafted to England and acted as a machine gunner. His father was a sensitive man, and after the war he had nothing. He suffered from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and would often spend time in Chelsea, Massachusetts, coming home once a month for the weekend. However, when Roy was sick, he remembered his father would sit on his bed and draw what he could see outside the window on brown paper bags to show him. Roy would also draw pictures in the margins of a small book as he listened and drew the story that was being told on the radio.
In high school, Roy entered an art competition where he was required to draw the history of the school. Because not many people were interested in art, he wound up winning. During the last years of high school, Roy spent hours working on still lifes. After high school, he took an entrance exam for the Vesper George School of Art on Saturdays, with a payment of $5 for half a year. He was unable to make the payment, but one of his father’s friends gave him the money that he needed in order to attend. In spite of the opportunity to attend art school, he came to realize that he needed to support his family full time. From an early age, Roy was always working. As a boy, he worked selling newspapers at the railroad station, and after high school he worked in multiple factories. On his off hours, he worked at Howard Johnson making ice cream sodas.
Realizing he wasn’t going to get anywhere working in factories, Roy returned to Vesper where he established a strong foundation in the basics, and acquired marketable skills. He then won the “Prix de Rome,” which allowed him to study abroad. However, due to World War II restricting his travel, he instead attended the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation on Long Island, New York. He graduated from Vesper in 1941, and worked for a man in the Boston area where he did almost nothing. He later worked for a man named Bruce Anderson, whom he met through a fellow student in Boston. Up until meeting Anderson, Roy had always loved Norman Rockwell—an illustrator best known for his iconic Saturday Evening Post covers and for inspiring generations of Americans. At first, Roy dseperately wanted to be another Norman Rockwell. However, Anderson saw something special in Roy and advised him to give up on becoming the next Norman Rockwell—a feat that would have been difficult regardless. With Anderson, he was able to establish his own look and style, and he recalls Anderson saying to him "Roy, you're never going to be Norman Rockwell, but you just might be a cartoonist." If it hadn't been for Anderson's encouragement, Roy would have been lost on what to do with his career. Working with Anderson, Roy produced posters and booklets for American Airlines; and he met his first wife, Lois, whom he had a son and daughter with.
Roy then left Boston, moving to Philadelphia to work for N.W. Ayer, where he met Leo Lionni — an art director at the time, and future author of children’s books such as Alexander and the Wind up Mouse (1969) and Swimmy (1963). It was in Philadelphia where Roy's artistic future started taking shape. At the time, Lionni was working with N.W. Ayer for a decade, and was in charge of creating bits to be published in Ladies’ Home Journal. After Lionni left, the work was passed onto Roy where he first worked on creating pieces that resembled Lionni's drawings. He was later able to create his own pieces for the journal and submit them for approval. Roy also worked under Charles Coiner — an American painter and advertising art director — while he continued to work for N.W. Ayer & Son.
After his work in Philadelphia, Roy moved to New York to do freelance work. During this time, he divorced his first wife, and was renting a house in Connecticut—commuting into the city for work. In 1963, he met June Reynard — an illustrator who worked for numerous fashion houses such as Christian Dior — at an art opening at the NY Society of Illustrators. The following year, the two married and June moved in to Roy's new apartment in Greenwich Village, where the two also shared an art studio. Oftentimes, whenever he got an assignment, he would work as fast as he could—finishing pieces well before their deadline. Although they didn't often critique each other's work, when Roy asked for June's opinoin, she made sure to make comments without hurting his feelings. Whenever the two conversed with each other, June made sure to work in a diplomatic way. She also encouraged him, and often pushed for him to defend himself and his artwork. When the couple weren't working, they traveled extensively to places like Greece, Argentina, across the U.S., and to parts of Asia.
During Roy’s time freelancing in New York, he got a call from Bennett Cerf — publisher and co-founder of Random House. Cerf and his wife Phyllis had seen Roy’s work, and asked if he’d like to meet Ted Geisel, famously known as Dr. Seuss. The two came together over the weekend at Cerf's country home in upstate New York. Geisel was looking for someone to help illustrate his books, and the two hit it off, sketching and talking about what work needed to be done. Roy then began doing work for Random House, and many of his books shared credits with Dr. Seuss and Theo LeSieg—another one of Geisel's pen names. Roy was fast, reliable, and understood what Geisel was looking for in his children's books—basic images with simple representation that any child could recognize. The McKies knew the Geisels both socially and professionally from the 1960s until the early ‘80s. In 1984, Roy attended Geisel’s 80th birthday party which started at the New York Public Library, and ended at Manhattan’s 21 Club for dinner. Roy found Geisel to be a wonderful man, and the two got along well.
During Roy's life as an illustrator, he worked on more than 100 books for numerous different publishers, as well as humorous books with Henry Beard on subjects such as skiing, golfing, sailing, and fishing. His favorite work of his was Snow, which he illustrated for screenwriter, author, and illustrator, P.D. Eastman. He described his style as being more of “an old fashioned way of approaching things. Softer, not so vulgar as a lot of what you see for children today.” However, it is his work with Dr. Seuss and the Beginner Book imprint series that catapulted his fame. In 2010, Roy and June moved to New Holland, Pennsylvania—a place they had visited the past 41 years. It was in New Holland, Pennsylvania where Roy died in 2015 at the age of 93.
 Streetman, Burgin. “In Celebration: Roy McKie.” Vintage Kids’ Books My Kid Loves. January 3, 2011. Accessed June 21, 2021. http://www.vintagechildrensbooksmykidloves.com/2011/01/in-celebration-roy-mckie.html
 “Roy A. McKie Jr.” The New York Times. March 9, 2015. Accessed June 21, 2021. https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=roy-a-mckie-jr&pid=174350926
Illustrations by Roy McKie
Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie. Ten Apples Up on Top! New York: Beginner Books, 1961.
Dr. Seuss and Roy McKie. My Book About Me by Me Myself: I Wrote It! I Drew It! New York: Beginner Books, 1969.
Beard, Henry and Roy McKie. Fishing: An Angler's Dictionary. New York: Workman Pub, 1983.
McKie, Roy and P. D. Eastman. Snow. New York: Beginner Books A Division of Random House, 1990.