Born in Sterling, Colorado in 1933, Burkert moved to Wisconsin with her family in 1945. She married Robert Burkert, a professor of Fine Art at UWM, and has two children, Claire and Rand.
In the introduction to The Art of Nancy Ekholm Burkert (Bantam, 1977), Michael Danoff, then curator of the Milwaukee Art Museum, states, "Burkert works in a tradition of artists for whom book illustration is one of the fine arts like painting or sculpture. Each of the drawings she makes is, in its own right, a fully realized work of art. Her drawings are not a secondary accompaniment to words, but a primary and integral part of the book experience in which she is an equal partner with the writer." (Quoted in the Wisconsin Library Association Literary Awards, 1995.)
Burkert has won numerous awards for her illustrations, including the Caldecott, New York Times Notable Book, Boston Globe-Horn Book, and Wisconsin Library Association Wisconsin Notable Authors. In addition, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art featured an exhibit of Burkert's work in 2003.