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David McKee, author and illustrator of iconic children’s books Elmer, Not Now, Bernard and Mr Benn, has died aged 87, his publisher has announced.

David McKee, author of Elmer and Mr. Benn, dies at 87 |  Books

The author and illustrator died surrounded by his family in the south of France following a short illness. Having traveled the world all his life, he and his partner Bakhta, a Franco-Algerian art dealer, have split their time between London and Provence for the past few years.

His longtime editor, Klaus Flugge, said he was devastated by the news. “He was a singular voice and a shining light in children’s books that highlighted inclusivity, diversity, and parts of our world that aren’t always present in children’s publishing.”

David McKee, author of Elmer and Mr. Benn, dies at 87 |  Books
‘Inclusiveness, celebration and friendship’… the Duchess of Cornwall meets Elmer at St James’s Park, London, in 2021. Photography: Rex/Shutterstock

He added: “Not only was I blessed to be his editor, but he was also a wonderful friend, and he will be missed by many more people than he could ever imagine.”

McKee was born in Tavistock, Devon, and studied at Plymouth Art College. His first book Two Can Toucan was published in 1964 by Flugge while working at Abelard-Schuman. When Flugge founded Andersen Press in 1976, McKee moved in with him and went on to create over 50 books for the publisher.

McKee wrote and illustrated 29 original stories about Elmer’s beloved multicolored patchwork elephant, the first of which was published in 1968. The books remain one of the most widely read children’s book series of all time: over 10 million copies have been sold, and they have been translated into over 60 languages.

The themes of inclusion, celebration and friendship that run through Elmer’s stories led the Guardian to hail Elmer as an LGBT hero in 2014. “I never intended to do this” , McKee said in an interview at the time, “but I suspect there are subconscious processes at work that I don’t find out about until later.

David McKee, author of Elmer and Mr. Benn, dies at 87 |  Books
Mr. Benn with suits. Photography: Courtesy of Clive Juster & Associates / M. Benn/© David McKee 2017

In addition to writing and illustrating children’s books, McKee has had a successful career as an artist and as the co-creator of animated television programs, including Mr. Benn, based on his book series. about the magical adventures of an explorer. The series celebrated its 50th anniversary last year.

McKee has been named the 2020 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award winner. announcement of his victory.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2020, McKee said: “I’ve often said that I think the air is full of stories – you just have to have the right receiver and pick it up.”

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