BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award

The BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a children's writer or illustrator whose body of work, in the opinion of the panel of judges, merits recognition for a lifetime's achievement in children's literature.

It is a separate recognition to the Children's Laureate in that it is purely celebratory and is not attached to any wider purpose of promoting children's literature. BookTrust intends it to be awarded to a person who is not likely to become Children's Laureate in the future.

2020 winner: David McKee

Everyone at BookTrust was devastated to learn of the death of David McKee on 6 April, 2022 at the age of 87.

David McKee

David McKee, the much loved Devon-born author and illustrator, famous for picture book such as Elmer and Not Now Bernard, was awarded the BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award 2020.

David, aged 85, was born in Devon in 1935 and studied at Plymouth Art College. In the early part of his career, David regularly drew and sold humorous drawings to magazines and newspapers such as The Times Educational Supplement, Punch, and the Reader's Digest. His first book, Two Can Toucan, was published by Klaus Flugge in 1964. He has written and illustrated over 50 picture books for Andersen press, many of which are now children's classics, including King RolloMr BennNot Now Bernard, and Elmer the Patchwork Elephant. David loves to paint and now lives between the South of France and London. 

When talking about his childhood, he says fondly that lots of people told him stories, but that he loved Winnie the Pooh and Treasure Island. He didn't even know that being an illustrator could be a real job, so he trained to be a teacher - but never actually became one. 

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. Elmer books have sold over 10 million copies worldwide since Elmer was first published by Andersen Press in 1989. Whilst his classic picture book Not Now Bernard, which celebrated its 40th year in June, has sold more than 5 million copies

On being recognised for a lifetime achievement award, David said: 

“I don’t really believe it. It just doesn’t seem possible, as I’ve never been really one to get awards like that. I can’t help wondering if somebody has mistaken me for someone else! It’s obviously fantastic but it is a total surprise, the shock is hard to get over. I suppose I see myself differently.”

Diana Gerald, CEO of BookTrust said: 

“David McKee and his patchwork elephant Elmer are synonymous with childhood. 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.”

The judges for the 2020 BookTrust Lifetime Achievement Award were journalist Nicolette Jones (chairing), author and illustrator James Mayhew, storyteller Jan Blake, author and academic Katherine Rundell and children’s writer SF Said.

Nicolette Jones, journalist and judging chair 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, with books such as King Rollo, Two Can Toucan and of course Elmer. 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.”

Founder of Anderson Press, Klauss Flugge 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.”

Read the full news story

Read an interview with David about winning the award


Nicolette JonesNicolette Jones (Chair)

Writer, critic and broadcaster

Nicolette Jones is a writer, critic and broadcaster specialising in literary and arts journalism. She has been the Children's Books Reviewer of The Sunday Times for more than two decades, and in 2012 was shortlisted for the Eleanor Farjeon Award for distinguished service to the world of children's books.


James Mayhew


James Mayhew studied illustration at Maidstone College of Art. In 1994 he won one of the New York Times's Ten Best Illustrated Books awards for his work on The Boy and the Cloth of Dreams (Walker). Recently he has been writing stories especially for illustrators. James lives in Letchworth, Hertfordshire


Jan Blake


Jan Blake is one of Europe's leading storytellers who has been performing world-wide since 1986. Her stories - especially from Africa, the Caribbean, and Arabia - have earned her a reputation for dynamic and generous storytelling. Her own storytelling company and school is the Akua Storytelling Project. She regularly leads storytelling workshops for schools and universities and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio programmes. 


Katherine Rundell


Katherine is the bestselling author of The Wolf Wilder and Rooftoppers, which won the Waterstones Children's Book Prize and the Blue Peter Book Award and was shortlisted for many others. In 2017 Katherine won the Costa Children's Book Award for The Explorer. She has also been selected as one of the Aarhus39 - 39 of the leading children's writers from across Europe - and one of the Hay30 'writers and thinkers'.


S F Said


S F Said's first book Varjak Paw won the Nestlé Smarties Prize for Children's Literature. The sequel won the BBC Blue Peter Book Of The Year and his third book, Phoenix, represented the UK on the IBBY International Honour Book List and was shortlisted for the Guardian Children's Fiction Award. 



Diana Gerald

Diana Gerald

BookTrust CEO

Diana Gerald joined as Chief Executive in March 2015 and works closely with partners in Government, the Arts Council, publishing, libraries, children's centres, school and local authorities. She is also a trustee of SA-YES, a South African charity which mentors young people leaving care homes in Cape Town.

Reasons to love David McKee

Why so many famous authors love David McKee

'I feel like he's been with me my whole life'

Authors and illustrators celebrate the news that David McKee has won the Lifetime Achievement Award, by explaining what he means to them.

See a list of David McKee's books

Our favourite books

Check out some of our favourite picture books by David McKee

Hear from David McKee himself

Read Emily Drabble's interview with David McKee

David reflects on a lifetime of celebrating difference through picture books, and what winning the Lifetime Achievement Award means to him.