Anne-Kathrin Behl is a renowned German illustrator and the mother of two young boys. Her books have been translated into many languages and awarded the Prix Chronos de Littérature. They‘ve also been included in the collection of the most beautiful children’s books as part of the Austrian Children’s and Young Adult Literature Prize. Her book Robert and the World’s Best Cake will be published on February 2nd, 2021.
NorthSouth Books: What are the main points about you and/or the book that should be emphasized to the media?
Books have a great impact on children and can help them become open-minded, thoughtful, and self-reflecting. To help achieve this, I think it’s important that every child could see themself in children’s books, no matter what their interests, skin color, or social background. Robert and the Worlds Best Cake is my attempt to leave old gender stereotypes behind—without pointing it out. I think it can help children to feel empowered when we represent their interests as something special. They shouldn’t be made to feel abnormal. The most important thing is to show that ‘normality’ has many faces. And while you need many books with strong girls you also need just as many books with sensitive boys. Because they are out there. And they shouldn’t be made to feel weak or less of a boy because they are more calm or quiet.
NorthSouth Books: What was your inspiration for the book??
The biggest inspiration are my two sons, but the crucial moment for writing this book was in the begging of 2019, when I read an article in a newspaper that criticized persistent gender clichés in children’s books. Children’s books with male main characters are especially full of stereotypes. There are more and more books about brave, loud, and adventurous girls—which is awesome—but you can hardly find any book with sensitive boys that enjoy the quiet side of life. As a mother of two boys I already recognized how hard (or impossible) it was to find a book that shows their daily life—which is full of dinosaurs, cars, and pirates, but also full of pink fairy costumes, kitchen playtime, and dress-up games—things supposedly “girly,” if you think in stereotypes. So when I angrily grumbled in front of the newspaper, wondering why it’s still so hard for a boy to be interested in “girly” things and why there are hardly any books about it, my husband said: “Well, you should write one!” In that moment my eyes were opened and I wondered why I never thought of this before.
NorthSouth Books: I heard you wanted glitter on the cover. Why?
I love this question! And yes, I would have loved some glitter on the cover, because I made this book for my boys. And both of them love glitter! Unfortunately, whenever you see a children’s book cover with glitter, they mainly feature girls, princesses, and fairies. Since I know quite a lot of boys who love glitter, it would have been perfect.
NorthSouth Books: What do you hope young readers will learn from reading your book?
Honestly, I don’t think that young readers need to learn something from reading my book. They already know that you don’t need wild adventures for an exciting day. I hope young readers will see this book as a funny story with a lot of different characters. To be honest, I hope that parents will take away something from reading my book. Or even just by seeing it in a bookshop. It’s necessary to see pink book covers with boys on them to get beyond the gender stereotypes. I still know too many parents who don’t allow their boys to have a play kitchen, to play with dolls, or to dress up like a fairy, even though their boys would love to. Those parents are afraid of softening their boys. Or they fear the reaction of other people. But this is very counterproductive if we want humanity to be open-minded and tolerant.
NorthSouth Books: Were you creative as a child?
I guess you can say so. My mother had a bookshop and I was always surrounded by tons of books offering great stories—showing me the world beyond my daily life. I felt inspired by them a lot and as soon as I could write, I made my own little books.
NorthSouth Books: From play dough cakes to real cakes: Does your family have a favorite cake?
We all love the “mole cake”! But since it’s a ready-made baking mix I can’t tell you the recipe. Don’t tell anyone. ; )
But another one we really love is the Swedish “Kladdkaka.”
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
Whisk 1 ⅓ cups sugar (265 g) and 2 eggs.
Sift in ½ cup flour (60 g), ¼ cup cocoa powder (30 g), and 1 pinch salt.
Mix until well combined.
Add ½ cup melted butter (115 g) and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.
Grease a pan with butter and sprinkle cocoa powder to coat.
Pour in batter and smooth out. Batter will be very thick.
Bake for 20 minutes, until the top has hardened and the center is still soft.
Enjoy with lots of whipped cream (or ice cream). ; )
NorthSouth Books: Did you have specific characters in mind before you created the book?
Since I had the idea for this book shortly before the book fair in Bologna 2019 and I really wanted to present this project to my publisher, there was not much time to develop my characters. But when I came up with the idea for this story I already had a pretty clear image of Robert and his dad in my mind. So drawing them went quickly. Mopsi, the dog, was actually just a character for my business card. But I fell in love with this little guy so much that he had to be a part of this story.