Robert Klanten Interview

Robert Klanten

Founder - Little Gestalten

Could you give a brief overview of your publishing background and how you came to found Little Gestalten?

gestalten is an international publishing house focusing on illustrated design books which I co-founded in 1995. We had regularly worked with illustrators, many of which had continued to become very well known in the world of children’s books. The books these individuals created appealed to our aesthetics and ethics. They energized, excited and inspired us to start "Little Gestalten” known as “Kleine Gestalten" in Germany.

Where does your passion for design come from?

I am an Industrial Designer by trade and by education. When the first computers became affordable in the early 90s I was intrigued by the new possibilities and the self empowerment they lent to creativity. At gestalten, we were exploring desktop publishing and started working in communication design and curating design shows.

George Bernard Shaw's words, “Make it a rule never to give a child a book you would not read yourself.” are at the heart of Little Gestalten's vision. Select 5 titles from your list of picture books, nonfiction, illustrated stories, and pop-ups which best exemplify this approach.

In Great Numbers - How Numbers Shape the World we Live In is a book that aims to spark children's fascination with numbers, and explains how the world came to be what it is today through them. I learnt quite a bit myself when we did the book.

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The World of Whales - Get to Know the Giants of the Ocean: children and adults are fascinated by these majestic animals that, in many ways, seem to be familiar to human beings but live in an environment that is as unknown to us as outer space.

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Precious Planet - A User’s Manual for Curious Earthlings is a book about Earth that conveys deeper insights by comparing our planet to a human household.

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Life and I - A Story About Death is an optimistic story about death. Death is not portrayed as a scary monster but as a rather normal companion to life without which life could not exist. Grown-ups and children alike may find solace in this story and I think it is a great book to start a conversation about this often complicated subject.

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The Big Book of Treasures tells joyful stories about how in the course of history great treasures were made, lost, and eventually found again. Raphael Honigstein, the author of The Big Book of Treasures is a well-known football journalist in the UK.

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What are some of Little Gestalten's bestsellers?

Easy Peasy - An Introduction to Gardening with Kids: the playful artwork by illustrator Aitch captures your imagination in a mesmerising way. The planting can also be realised indoors for children without a balcony or a garden. We always try to stay inclusive with any books we create.

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All my Animals: Polish illustrator Dawid Ryski was part of our publishing programme from its beginnings on. He has a very good understanding of the children’s eye and their perception, matching his artwork to their particular age group.

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Goliath - The Boy Who Was Different: The title represents the Little Gestalten publishing programme very well as the illustrations are marvellous. The pages are rendered in very bold and striking colours, shaped in geometric ways - reflecting that no one's life ever follows a linear path. The story of the boy Goliath, an attempt we follow in all our children’s books, is to help children who feel different to other children verbalise their feelings and eventually find their own place in the world.

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What Do Grown-Ups Do All Day?  Do you remember what it was like when you were a child and wondered what the grown-ups do all day? This book tries to give examples of what kind of professional occupations there are, and wants to inspire children to make use of different opportunities. Our fourth book with Dawid Ryski breaks up gender stereotypes and empowers children to become what they want to.

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What are some of the main messages you hope children will take from reading your titles?

First of all we would like to inspire children’s endless curiosity for the world that surrounds them. We try to show the value of compassion, appreciation and respect without preaching to the kids. We would like to open the door a little bit more and hope that children are inspired to walk through it and explore and appreciate the beauty of the real world as an addition and alternative to the digital world.

For those artists looking to appeal to Little Gestalten, what portfolio advice would you offer?

If you are hoping to impress the most critical of all audiences (the children, not us), get your story straight, make your characters approachable and not square, make your designs unique and try to employ a light approach to the creation process.

What impact has the global pandemic had on your business?

We saw a surge in children’s book purchases during a time when families spent more time together. Having to cope with homeschooling books became more popular. We were very fortunate to fill in this need with a plethora of educational and entertaining material and activities from our books that our reading parents found very worthwhile engaging their children with. We thank our audience for this tremendous feedback during the harder times this year. We were also able to offer a lot of the stories and content from the children’s books digitally, to offer equality to all. We wish everyone to stay healthy and for the pandemic to come to an end soon. It is impressive how seriously children take the situation and how well they implement the distancing measures when returning to school.


Portrait photography by Dan Smith

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