From the Library
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From the Library

In Memory of David McKee (1935–2022) — Picture Book Creator Extraordinaire

A nostalgic look back at my time with Andersen Press

David McKee was one of the first illustrators I met when I worked at Andersen Press, a children’s book publisher based in London.

I can remember being a little star-struck by the authors and illustrators who made their way through the doors of Andersen Press and Random House in general, but David McKee made everyone feel at ease — even the most junior on the team.

When he’d bring in new work, everyone would be in a state of anticipation and excitement. It was inspiring to see the original artwork and just marvel at it all.

One year — I forget exactly when — we attended an art exhibition of illustrator’s work. I had never really thought about it before, but every spread can be framed and appreciated in that way too. I’m not sure whether many book illustrators consider this, but I think they should!

When my children were born, I took out my paints and got to work on creating a David McKee-Elmer-themed space — I copied a few quintessential colorful Elmer pics onto canvas and added a multi-colored blanket and an Elmer teddy of course. My mom even created an Elmer-inspired duvet.

More importantly, our little ones grew up knowing about the adventures of Elmer as well as other books by David McKee.

My children especially loved Three Monsters and how the “funny foreigner type” outsmarted the two lazy monsters. They thought this wonderful!

I love the way David McKee shares such simple, but profound messages through his work and embraces tough topics such as celebrating difference, discussing neglect, and even war.

He always came at the topic from an interesting and slightly unexpected angle. I count my signed copy of The Conquerors (about war) as one of my treasures and no matter how many times I read Not Now, Bernard, I always feel my jaw drop a little and my eyebrows lift a little. I want to laugh out loud and I feel anxious at the same time. It is quite something!

The original is a masterpiece, and there is also an updated version to reflect our current preoccupation with the ubiquitous mobile phone.

If you’re not familiar with these classics, seek them out.

You — and your kids — will be so happy you did!

One of the David McKee and Elmer times that stand out especially well for me was the time I donned the Elmer costume for the Edinburgh Book Festival.

That year, we planned an “Elmer’s Birthday Party” for a group of children with a visit from Elmer. I was there to help and when our young actor didn’t pitch, I had little choice but to put on the costume myself. It was a giggle.

What a magical thing to think that I played some small part in bringing Elmer to children. And what a magical thing to have met David himself.

David believed that 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.’ (David speaking to BookTrust in 2020)

Klaus Flugge, David McKee’s publisher, honored his best friend: “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 have become part of the canon of children’s literature, and we hope will be enjoyed by children for many more generations to come.”

I hope so too. Take a look at the Andersen Press site here for more info.



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