#DutchKidLit – Where Is the Cake? by Thé Tjong-Khing

Post by guest author Sabrina Rossi from the International School of Amsterdam.

Last August, during my staycation in the Netherlands, I decided to visit the Kranenburgh museum in Bergen with the intention of exploring the exhibition on Thé Tjong-Khing and his children’s book illustrations for the last twenty years, Thé Tjong-Khing: In the Master Illustrator’s Studio, which will run until 3 October 2021. I was delighted by the fact that my visit was accompanied by the enthusiasm and the energy of many children of different ages enjoying the exhibition, which offered them a dress-up corner, a drawing table, a matching game between Thé Tjong-Khing’s illustrations and famous artworks, and a cozy room with regal armchairs where a large collection of his books was available to dive into and read

I don’t draw for children. I draw for one child, and that’s myself, the child I used to be.

– Thé Tjong-Khing

Thé Tjong-Khing is a Dutch children’s book author and illustrator of Chinese-Indonesian origin. In most of his books, three features are recurrent: a taste for the macabre, a passion for art, and a rich level of detail. Tjong-Khing’s illustrations of traditional fairy tales and Greek myths show an explicit representation of the described action, with a gentle stroke and a touch of humoristic interpretation so that his young readers do not get too scared:

In his most famous wordless picture books Where Is the Cake?, Where Is the Cake Now?, and The Birthday Cake Mystery, readers can carefully scan each page and appreciate the abundance of details and the stories inside the story that are typical of Tjong-Khing’s work. There are visual puzzles and multiple storylines that always require going back and forth through the pages to find all the clues.

Where Is the Cake? earned Tjong-Khing both the Dutch Zilveren Penseel (Silver Brush) and the Wouterje Pieterse Prijs in 2005. In this adventure, Mr. and Mrs. Dog are attending to the last few domestic chores before enjoying a delicious homemade cake that is cooling on a table in front of their house. Suddenly two mischievous rats steal the cake and the adventure starts! A frantic chase takes place across the changing landscapes of dark woods, a bamboo forest, rocky hills and a palm tree oasis while more and more animals join in and have accidents or fall in love or have a fight along the way. Will Mama Duck realize that one of her ducklings is missing? Will Baby Pig be able to catch the balloon that escaped from its hand? And most of all, will the cake still be edible after such a reckless ordeal?

Image from Where Is the Cake? How many characters and stories can you find? There is the cake being carried off by the pair of rats, the dogs are in hot pursuit of their cake, a family of pigs are taking a walk, frogs are playing ball in the woods, where are they all going all dressed up? Children and adults will delight in these busy, exciting pages full of color and life.

The more closely you look, the more the illustrator shares with you the joy with which he made the book.

– Jury report Woutertje Pieterse Prize 2005

There are multiple happy endings in one exhilarating book that will keep children and parents busy for many reading sessions, looking for new clues and telling each other their interpretations of what is happening. And if you have a bit of a sweet tooth after enjoying this first cake-caper, even more cake and more adventures follow in his next books Where is the Cake Now? also known as Picnic with Cake, and The Birthday Cake Mystery.

Collage of Thé Tjong-Khing’s Dutch cake books via Elke Dag Prentenboek 2018 .

Tjong-Khing’s second book after the huge success of Where Is the Cake?, was Picnic with Cake, which was turned into a multimedia success, with an animated series, iPad app, and online game. The TV series ran on Dutch television every morning for several years, and each animal received their own episode, creating a combination of stories that were part fantasy, part thriller, part slapstick, and all delicious:

Another fun adventure in Tjong-Khing’s cake series, Art with Cake takes a different approach: “Art with Cake, his ode to the artistic imagination, is a witty parody of his own art and the work of great artists from history.” Mrs Dog returns and “is dreaming about an exhibition of world-famous paintings. But the work of art that she painted for the exhibition gets stolen! What comes next is a wild chase through famous landscapes by Van Gogh, Braque, Hokusai and Dali” (Nederlands Letterenfonds). Another wordless picture book triumph by Tjong-Khing that allows his work to be enjoyed by young museum goers in the Netherlands and around the world.

Art with Cake featuring Mrs. Dog in Van Gogh’s painting Bedroom in Arles (De slaapkamer).

This book is a real art gallery in which readers both young and old can entertain themselves by identifying each famous artwork that is represented, such as his ode to The Great Wave of Kanagawa by 19th century Japanese artist Hokusai:

Art with Cake illustration inspired by Hokusai.

There is also a Art with Cake Reading Guide in English, Catalan, and Spanish, to expand the experience of the book with engagements and activities that work to develop children’s imaginations and “discover the amazing world of art.”

Both Thé Tjong-Khing’s wordless picture books and the host of creative activities available at the current exhibition that inspired this post, can be a source of inspiration for Lower School librarians, classroom teachers, EAL specialists, and parents of children between the ages of 3 and 7 in particular. Children can be engaged, in groups or alone, in telling and re-telling Tjong-Khing’s stories at their own pace and in their own words in their home languages or in additional languages, guessing what happens in the next page, hunting for details in the pictures, making stick puppets of the characters to tell their own new adventures, dressing up and acting out favorite scenes, being introduced to specific artists and invited to express their view on them, and being inspired to make their own art in their own style. These are just some of the ideas that can stem from Thé Tjong-Khing’s books. So go on, give it a try, and enjoy his imaginary, enchanted world.

Where Is the Cake?
Written by Thé Tjong-Khing
Illustrated by Thé Tjong-Khing
ISBN: 9780810917989
Originally published as Waar is de taart? by Lannoo, 2004
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2007

Where Is the Cake Now?
Written by Thé Tjong-Khing
Illustrated by Thé Tjong-Khing
ISBN: 9780810989269
Originally published as Picknick met Taart by Lannoo, 2005
Published by Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2009

The Birthday Cake Mystery
Written by Thé Tjong-Khing
Illustrated by Thé Tjong-Khing
ISBN: 9780810989269
Originally published as Verjaardag met taart by Lannoo, 2010
Published by Gecko Press, 2012

Art with Cake
Written by Thé Tjong-Khing
Illustrated by Thé Tjong-Khing
Translated by Charles Hugo
ISBN: 9788499795935
Originally published as Verjaardag met taart by Lannoo, 2015
Published by Editorial Mediterrània, 2018

For further exploration:

Visit Thé Tjong-Khing’s website here.

Read the dossier nominating Thé Tjong-Khing for the Hans Christian Andersen Award 2018.

Explore a collection of his illustrations sorted by themes.

Reviews:

A great book in which the virtuoso draftsman Thé turns out not only to have an enormously long artistic breath (…) but also to have a wild fantasy that he lives out in the smallest details. Each spread provides great viewing pleasure and is so incredibly beautiful in color and wonderfully drawn that you will be really happy from the age of four. Kudos to meastro Khing! Leesgoed

A book full of surprises to browse and re-browse each time to find a new little detail. L’Armitière

Awards:

1978 Gouden Penseel
1985 Gouden Penseel
2003 Gouden Penseel
2005 Zilveren Penseel
2005 Wouterje Pieterse Prijs
2010 Max Velthuis Prijs
1972, 1988, 2008 and 2018 nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award – IBBY The Netherlands

Thé Tjong-Khing was born in Purworedjo in Indonesia in 1933 from a Chinese Indonesian family. He studied at the Seni Rupa Art Academy in Bandung and moved to the Netherlands in 1956 where he first worked as a comic strips illustrator. Since the ‘70s he has been working as a children book author and illustrator and has been rewarded with the prestigious Dutch prize Gouden Penseel (Gold Brush) in 1978, 1985, and 2003, the Zilveren Penseel (Silver Brush) and the Wouterje Pieterse Prijs in 2005, and the Max Velthuis Prijs in 2010. Thousands of his sketches and drawings are collected at the Literatuurmuseum. Fun fact: Thé Tjong-Khing has a passion for movies and is a movie quiz champion.
Sabrina Rossi has just moved into her new role as Upper School Library Assistant at the International School of Amsterdam after 10 years in ISA’s Lower School Library. Sabrina has a B.A. in Japanese Language and Literature from the University “La Sapienza” of Rome, Italy, where she is originally from. After living in London, Sabrina moved to Amsterdam in 2003 where she fell in love with the colorful fashion, the bikes, and the immense variety of languages that can be heard on its streets and has been living there ever since. Sabrina speaks five languages and enjoys reading books in their original versions as much as possible. Sabrina is a big fan of picture books!
Kim Tyo-Dickerson, seen here visiting the Kinderboekenmuseum/Children’s Book Museum in The Hague, is the Upper School Librarian and Head of Libraries at the International School of Amsterdam. Kim has a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York, a Master of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Philosophy in Interdisciplinary Studies from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is one of the founding members of the grassroots professional learning project International Teacher Librarians Lead (inTLlead) and is committed to world libraries, literatures, and literacies. Originally from United States, she has lived on three continents and worked in international school libraries for 16 years in both Europe and Africa. Kim’s languages include English, German, and Dutch. You can follow her on Twitter @kimtyodickerson.

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