David McKee, 1935 – 2022
It is with great sadness that we announce the death of David McKee, beloved author and illustrator for children, and creator of iconic children’s books Elmer, Not Now, Bernard and Mr Benn. David died surrounded by his family, following a short illness in the South of France, where he has spent a lot of time in recent years; he was 87. All at Andersen Press hope his spirit lives on for many more generations through his joyful, heartfelt stories.
David was born in Devon and studied at Plymouth Art College. His work allowed him to travel the world, spending extensive periods in Barcelona, Nice, Paris and Italy. Most recently he was happy spending time between his home in London and in Provence with his partner of many years, Bakhta.
In the early part of his career he regularly drew and sold humorous drawings to magazines and newspapers such as The Times Educational Supplement, Punch and the Reader’s Digest.
David’s first book Two Can Toucan was published in 1964 by Klaus Flugge whilst he worked at Abelard-Schuman. Once Klaus established Andersen Press in 1976, David became a mainstay of the publisher, creating over 50 books for them.
His most famous story, Elmer, was first published in 1968 by Dobson Publishing, but after being re-illustrated and re-released by Flugge’s Andersen Press in 1989 it became the household name it is today. The themes of inclusivity, celebration and friendship that run through the Elmer stories are a testament to David’s character and outlook on life, and he leaves an incredible legacy of acceptance for children around the world.
Elmer remains one of the most iconic and widely read children’s book series of all time, selling over 10 million copies. David wrote and illustrated 29 original Elmer books, and collectively they have been translated into more than 60 languages with new novelty books, toys and clothing available around the world based on David’s beloved character.
As well as a children’s book creator David had a successful career as a fine artist, and through King Rollo Films co-created some of the most iconic animated programmes in history including Mr Benn, based on David’s series of books, about the eponymous explorer who through a magic costume shop went on a series of fantastical adventures. The series celebrated its 50th anniversary since it premiered on BBC, in 2021.
His long time publisher Klaus Flugge has said: ‘I am devastated by the sudden death of my best friend David McKee. He was as close to Andersen Press as I am. He was there from the very beginning and essential to the origin of the company. He became great friends with everyone he encountered; staff, authors and illustrators alike.
‘His was a singular voice and a shining light in children's books that highlighted inclusivity, diversity and parts of our world that are not always present in publishing for children. His classic books include Elmer, Two Monsters and Not Now, Bernard, amongst many, many others, have become part of the canon of children’s literature, and we hope will be enjoyed by children for many more generations to come.
‘Not only was I fortunate to be his publisher, he was also a wonderful friend, and he will be missed by many more people than he could ever imagine. My thoughts, and those of everyone at Andersen Press, are with his family and many friends around the world.’
David was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University at Plymouth College of Art in 2011. He was named the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award winner in 2020 and also won Illustrator of the Year at that year’s British Book Awards. On David’s win BookTrust CEO Diana Gerald 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 its Lifetime Achievement Award after such an incredible contribution to children's literature that crosses cultures, generations and languages.'
Speaking to BookTrust in 2020 David said, 'Children's books can contribute to changing attitudes and are instrumental in helping children 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.'