While many icons of childhood nostalgia shine brightly for a time before disappearing completely (Teletubbies, anyone?), Elmer the patchwork elephant’s appeal has proven to be timeless and universal. Created in 1989 by author and artist David McKee, there are now 24 books in the Elmer series, which have sold over 8 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 50 languages.
David, 84, still produces a new tale about the plucky elephant every year. And, much like new animal on the block Peppa Pig, the Elmer stories deal with real themes, such as loneliness or not fitting in, helping to signpost or soothe young readers with messages of hope and morality.
Elmer has even tackled politicised issues such as immigration, prejudice and wildlife crime. In Elmer on Stilts, the patchwork pachyderm and his friends have to outwit a group of elephant hunters who are out to get them.
In real life, poachers have wiped out over a third of African elephants in just seven years, a critical issue that David McKee and Elmer’s publisher Andersen Press are determined to highlight. Earlier this year they partnered with charity Space for Giants on the international awareness-raising campaign March for Giants.
The campaign saw a moving, digital version of Elmer join a virtual herd of over 3,000 elephants who paraded across digital billboards around the globe. The march began in Hong Kong before reaching New York, London, Manchester and Birmingham, reaching millions of people through social media and in the press.
Elmer’s sponsorship enables Space for Giants to protect a real African elephant in the wild for life, as well as marching towards a better future for all elephants. Creator David McKee explains why he wanted to join the campaign: “I can’t imagine my world without Elmer or the world without elephants. But it could happen.”
Elmer celebrates inclusivity, loving the world and protecting all animals in the wild, and the books inspire children and their families everywhere. He’s so enduring he’s got his own National Day. The annual celebration Elmer Day, on 27 May, sees hundreds of events happen across the UK.
Over 1500 schools and 1,150 bookshops have already signed up for an Elmer Day pack, which supports them in putting on an event to mark the day and share it with the world on social media.
After more than 25 years, Elmer remains one of the most iconic and widely read children’s book series of all time. An elephant never forgets, and time has shown children never forget this elephant.
1. Elmer is so popular with all ages in Japan that a successful clothing range for adults has launched there.
2. In 2014 the Guardian celebrated Elmer as an LGBT hero for ‘opening people's minds to accepting difference and being themselves for a quarter of a century’.
3. David took inspiration for Elmer’s elephant family from his own relatives; Cousin Wilbur, is based on a ventriloquist uncle of David’s and Aunt Zelda is based on his mother.
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