Creator of Elmer David McKee wins BookTrust lifetime award

Annette Rawstrone
Thursday, September 24, 2020

Elmer the Elephant’s author and illustrator David McKee has won the prestigious BookTrust annual Lifetime Achievement Award.

David McKee has won the BookTrust's prestigious lifetime achievement award
David McKee has won the BookTrust's prestigious lifetime achievement award

The creator of the much-loved patchwork elephant and many other children’s classics, including Not Now, Bernard, Mr Benn and King Rollo, has written and illustrated more than 50 picture books.

On being recognised for the lifetime achievement award, he said, ‘The shock is hard to get over and it still doesn’t quite seem possible as I’ve never been one for the spotlight and or winning awards but it’s truly fantastic, and even though I still don’t really believe it, I’m accepting it anyway, with great pleasure.’

The reading charity’s award celebrates the body of work of an author and or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. Previous winners include Shirley Hughes, the late Judith Kerr, Raymond Briggs and Helen Oxenbury along with the late John Burningham who were awarded the first ever double prize.

Fellow author and illustrator Lauren Child said, ‘I feel like he’s been with me my whole lifetime because I read his books as a child and they were very important to me.

‘Not only because I love the illustrations which were something I’d never seen before. But also because he was always on the child’s side and you felt like these books were for you. As an illustrator I find his work completely inspiring and the design of it is exquisite.’

Mr McKee, aged 85, has a career that spans more than 60 years, despite commenting that, ‘I didn’t even realise being an illustrator could be a real job!’ His first books were published at a time when sudden changes in printing techniques allowed for much more colourful picture books and parents started to buy and read children’s books for themselves because they had not seen them before. 

Elmer remains one of the most iconic and widely read children’s book series of all time, with its bright and bold colours, cast of unique characters and important message of acceptance and celebration of everyone’s differences at its heart. The Elmer series has sold more than 10 million copies worldwide since being published by Anderson Press in 1989. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Mr McKee’s iconic Mr Benn first being shown on BBC television.

Talking about the importance of children’s books, Mr McKee said, ‘Children’s books can contribute to changing attitudes and are instrumental in helping them shape their view of the world. Picture books are a child’s first glimpse into the art world and in some way, especially with some of my books, the illustrations are actually more important than the story.’

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust, said, 'David McKee and his patchwork elephant Elmer are synonymous with childhood and loved by children and parents alike. BookTrust is delighted to present David with our Lifetime Achievement Award after such an incredible contribution to children’s literature that crosses cultures, generations and languages.’

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