Elmer creator McKee wins BookTrust's Lifetime Achievement Award

Elmer creator McKee wins BookTrust's Lifetime Achievement Award

Author and illustrator David McKee has won BookTrust's annual Lifetime Achievement Award for his “incredible” contribution to children's books.

The author of Elmer (Andersen) and Not Now, Bernard (Andersen) will be celebrated at a virtual ceremony organised by the reading charity later today (24th September).

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. Even though I still don’t really believe it I’m accepting it anyway, with great pleasure.”

Now aged 85, McKee's career spans more than 60 years. He started off trying to become teacher before realising during his training that the career was not right for him. Instead, he channelled his energies into creating cartoons and writing stories, selling drawings to publications such as the Times Educational Supplement, Punch and Reader’s Digest.

His first book, Two Can Toucan, was published by Klaus Flugge in 1964. He has since written and illustrated more than 50 picture books for Andersen Press, many of which are considered classics.

The Elmer books have sold in excess of 10 million copies worldwide since first published by Andersen Press in 1989. McKee’s classic picture book Not Now, Bernard, which celebrated its 40th year this June, has sold more than five million copies, according to the publisher. Through Nielsen BookScan, he has sold 1.6 million books for £7.8m since records began in 1998. The 30th-anniversary Elmer special edition, published in 2007, is his bestseller, on 228,901 copies sold.

He 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."

Flugge, the founder of Andersen Press, said: “I have been very proud to publish David McKee’s books for over 50 years, from Elmer to King Rollo, Not Now, Bernard and many, many more. David’s is a singular voice and a shining light in children’s books that highlights inclusivity, diversity and parts of our world that are not always present in children’s books. Not only am I fortunate to be his publisher, he is a great friend, and there is no-one more deserving of this honour.”

BookTrust's annual award is given to an author or illustrator who has made an outstanding contribution to children's literature. Previous winners have included Shirley Hughes, the late Judith Kerr, Raymond Briggs and Helen Oxenbury.

McKee was chosen for the award by a panel of judges chaired by journalist Nicolette Jones. She said: “I’m delighted to have chaired the panel which awarded this year’s BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award to David McKee. He has an amazing track record since 1964. David McKee understands the importance of always paying attention to children and what he gives them is first-rate. I hope readers continue to enjoy his marvellous work for years to come.”

Diana Gerald, c.e.o. of BookTrust, added: “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.”