Chatting with Illustrator Christine Grove about Amanda Panda and the Bigger, Better Birthday

Guess what? The irrepressible Amanda Panda is back!

You may remember when we first met this plucky, school bus loving snappy dresser in Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten (2017) and interviewed author Candice Ransom, who admitted that she’s actually Amanda.

We also learned that Candice was asked to write the story based on character sketches created by Georgia illustrator Christine Grove. This was the first time Candice had written a picture book in this way and with animal characters.

 

Christine’s early panda bear character sketches.

 

The second Amanda book, Amanda Panda and the Bigger, Better Birthday (Doubleday, 2018), was released just last week, and we’re happy to welcome Christine Grove to Alphabet Soup to get her side of the story.

This time, Amanda is excited about being the first in her class to have a birthday and turn six, because then she’ll be special and famous. She has a School Bus themed birthday party all planned for Saturday and can’t wait to give her best friend Bitsy the first invitation.

But true to form, pink poufy Bitsy has beat Amanda to the punch. Bitsy’s birthday is the day before Amanda’s and her Princess Kitten birthday party is planned for the same day. Talk about spoiling everything! Despite Bitsy’s attempts to be accommodating, Amanda declares she won’t attend Bitsy’s party, so the formerly inseparable duo stop speaking to each other. What to do?

Christine has pulled out all the stops with her charming pictures (school bus wallpaper! adorable pandas with spot-on facial expressions! delectable sundae buffet!), making this story of friendship, compromise, and problem solving a joy to read.

I know you’ll enjoy hearing about how Christine created her panda characters and what she particularly enjoyed about working on this new book.

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🐼 MEET ILLUSTRATOR CHRISTINE GROVE 🎂

Tell us about when you first sketched the Amanda Panda character. What did she tell you about herself?

Initially she was a younger version, I found her to be independent and a bit strong willed — wanting things her way.

 

Early sketches

 

How was the personality that Candice created for her in Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten similar to and different from that?

As the idea for the books progressed while working with Frances Gilbert, the editor, Amanda Panda became older — school aged. But she still had that same personality and Candice captured it perfectly! I just love how Candice expresses Amanda Panda’s emotions — I mean, who hasn’t felt their tummy lower than their knees? Finding out you have to share your birthday can be pretty traumatic, when you had plans to be the star of the day. Candice has written a relatable and humorous story. She made me giggle out loud — books are definitely a group effort and it’s all the better when you have a great editor, designer and author!

What kind of six-year-old were you? Were you more like Amanda or Bitsy?

Definitely not Bitsy, I was the kid who wanted to go unnoticed. (I still like to be in the background.) I was super shy for a long time. Amanda is not shy but I can relate to her determination and how she thinks things should be a certain way.

Please share a favorite childhood birthday party memory.

I have to pick just one? I can’t — they were always special and I felt celebrated, plus there was cake!

Christine’s drawing table is actually an old, beloved kitchen table.

Describe your journey to becoming a published children’s book illustrator.

I’ve always loved to draw but didn’t seriously consider it as a possible career until well into adulthood. I was going through some big life changes and during that time did some serious thinking about + researching becoming a children’s book illustrator. I entered an MFA program and while I was finishing I got my first book contract. It was thrilling! Maybe a year or so later I signed with my agent — also thrilling! — Maggie Byer Sprinzeles. She gets me assignments and is a dream to work with!

Chalkboard inspiration outside Christine’s office.

Could you briefly explain how you made the pictures for this book?

I always start a sketch on loose copy paper. The sketching part is my favorite! Then I scan it into Photoshop where I can clean it up and move things around if I want. After sketches were approved I used my light table to transfer them in with a micron pen onto Arches watercolor paper. Then they’re scanned again and I can make small adjustments needed in Photoshop.

Do you have a favorite spread? What do you remember most about creating it?

I’d have to say the Birthday Party scene. I’ll always remember that it took a really long time to paint! But details are my favorite so it was so fun to do. I loved doing the little sprinkles, the curlies on the cupcakes, and princess hats the best!

Overall, what did you like best about working on this project? How was it different from working on the first Amanda book?

I’d have to say the sketching. I can get lost in it, it’s a great feeling. For this project I hope I know Amanda even better and have been able to make my drawings fit who she is. I’d hate to disappoint her!

Tools of the trade: Wacom tablet and light table, and paint tubes mounted and organized on a board.

I love how you’re able to convey such a wide range of character emotions through endearing facial expressions, gestures, and posturing. Do you ever use child models for reference?

Every once in a while I might google a reference for facial expression but I mostly use my own, even making the face myself as I try to figure out how to best draw an expression. I don’t usually use a mirror, rather I feel it. Is that weird? Maybe I should start using a mirror more…

I also love the way you dressed the pandas, and all the charming and humorous details you included in the illustrations (school bus wallpaper! colored sprinkles! polka dots!). Were there any particular reference materials you found especially helpful?

Thanks! I do google children’s clothes to try to get reference material. The editor and designer gave me direction on that one, clothing is a challenge for me and I don’t know why.

Honey is Christine’s studio muse.

Did you know you wanted to illustrate children’s books when you were little?

I’ve always loved books. My mom read to me constantly when I was little. When I was in elementary school I used to hide under the covers with Dr. Richard Scarry books, a flashlight, paper and pencil, trying to copy what I saw.

 

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Besides Richard Scarry, I love Gyo Fujikawa, Eloise Wilkins, Lynn Munsinger, Carter Goodrich, Janet Ahlberg, I could keep going.

Which ones do you think have had the most influence on your style?

There are so many great illustrators. I do really love Munsinger. Her ink and watercolors are amazing.

Tell us about your famous collection of Derwent 2H graphic pencils. Why are you especially enamored of them? 🙂

Oh, probably because I have an emotional attachment to them, they were the first I used when sketching. I keep a glass jar of the nubs, I want to see how full I can get it in a lifetime. Although, I did recently discover the pencil extender, cool invention! Does just what you would think, attaches to the pencil nub so you can use it even longer.

Christine’s Derwent pencil stubs are in the glass jar.

Is there anything else you’d like us to know about this book?

Just that I hope you enjoy reading and looking at it, as much as I enjoyed creating the illustrations. I hope every time you look at the pictures you never get bored and can find a new little something maybe you didn’t notice before.

What’s next for you?

Right now I am finishing up finals for another children’s book. And I start another book right after that with a different publisher, just turned in the cover for that one.

I love the yummy birthday party double page spread with the two birthday cakes and that wonderful sundae buffet. Do you have a favorite sweet treat recipe you can share with us?

How about Princess Cupcakes!? I do like to make things from scratch but for these cupcakes a box mix works just fine. And you can add an extra egg and use milk instead of water to make it even richer and more delicious. Then decorate them how you want, make them your own. Go crazy with it!

THANKS SO MUCH FOR VISITING, CHRISTINE!

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AMANDA PANDA AND THE BIGGER, BETTER BIRTHDAY
written by Candice Ransom
illustrated by Christine Grove
published by Doubleday BYR, 2018
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.

♥️ Cool Extras: Click on the images below for larger, printable versions of the coloring page and princess cupcake toppers.

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🎉 CONGRATULATIONS ON THE NEW BOOK, CHRISTINE AND CANDICE! 🎈


*Interior spreads text copyright ©2018 Candice Ransom, illustrations © 2018 Christine Grove, published by Doubleday Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

**This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. When you purchase something using a link on this site, Jama’s Alphabet Soup receives a small referral fee. Thank you for your support!

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[author chat + giveaway] A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet by Astronaut Clayton Anderson and Scott Brundage

#56 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet

Clayton Anderson in the Destiny module of the International Space Station

 

“T minus 10, 9, 8, 7, main engine start, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 and LIFT OFF!”

B is for Blastoff, a powerful thing!
When those engines are fired, it’ll make your ears ring.
There is smoke — and vibration — as we launch into space.
And we do it with flair, with excitement and grace!

 

On June 8, 2007, Astronaut Clayton C. Anderson launched to the International Space Station aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis. As Expedition 15 Flight Engineer and Science Officer aboard the ISS for five months, he performed three space walks. He returned to the ISS in 2010 on a resupply mission, and in 2013 retired from NASA after 30 years of service — 15 as an engineer and 15 as an astronaut.

These days, Clay is an author, motivational speaker, and part-time Senior Lecturer in Aerospace Engineering at Iowa State University. In March 2018 he published his first children’s book, A is for Astronaut: Blasting Through the Alphabet, illustrated by Scott Brundage (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018).

In this entertaining and informative picture book, we are invited to fly with Clay on a fun, out-of-this-world A to Z tour that draws on his wealth of firsthand knowledge and unique insight.

From Astronaut and Blast-off, to Galaxy and Meteors, right through to Rendezvous and Zulu time, the short lively poems paired with fascinating info sidebars will appeal to spaceniks and science buffs of all ages, stirring their wanderlust and inspiring them to dig a little deeper.

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Chatting with Andrea Potos about Arrows of Light

“A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.” ~ John Keats (Endymion, 1818)

Andrea at the Promega Employee Art Fair (Madison, Wisconsin, 2018)

 

The first poem in Andrea Potos’s chapbook Arrows of Light begins like this:

The lake is a blue scarf ironed
by stillness, locust leaves burnt
yellow, everywhere, softness
in September air.

Her exquisite metaphor took my breath away as I envisioned the tranquil autumn scene. Potos next quotes Keats:

The first thing that strikes me on hearing
a misfortune having befalled another is:
Well it cannot be helped — he will have
the pleasure of trying the resources of his spirit

Miles away, Andrea’s mother is undergoing cancer radiation treatment. The doctor “will aim one perfect arrow of light in the errant spot that would claim her if it had its way . . . ”

 

This poignant opening poem, “Morning of My 56th Birthday,” sets the stage for 25 other luminous and poignant ruminations about beauty, light, loss and grief. With her mother’s decline, each precious moment is amplified, bringing intense clarity and love.

Even as Andrea grieves, she celebrates life. Light and dark, joy and sorrow, flip sides of the same coin. She juxtaposes these two elements with extended metaphors of blue and gold: the blues of lake, sea, twilight, flowers, sadness; the golds of autumn, sunlight, Van Gogh, and radiant childhood memories.

“Grief, he told her, is the exhale of love (the ache of breathing) . . . “

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Faith Shearin’s “A Few Things I Ate” (+ a recipe!)

Lucky me, poet friend and kindred spirit Andrea Potos had the Poetry East Spring 2017 Food Issue sent to me shortly after it came out last year. You can bet I’ve been savoring and feasting on it ever since (thanks again, Andrea!).

This special issue, published by DePaul University, contains 49 poems presented in seven courses (truly the perfect meal), along with seven delectable recipes and a bevy of beautiful fine art paintings.

In the Main Course section, I was especially taken with Faith Shearin’s poem, “A Few Things I Ate.” The conversational style drew me in immediately, and I love how Faith built a captivating narrative with an embellished list of telling details, how she subtly wove in deeper regrets as well as fond memories. It’s wonderful how carefully chosen specifics can be so universally relatable.

Are we not all a product of what we’ve eaten throughout our lives? The countless foods, with their why’s and whens and wherefores, reveal our unique, personal stories.

I thank Faith for permission to share her poem, for answering my questions about it, and for her yummy recipe. Enjoy!

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Tailleuses de soupe by François Barraud (1933)

 

A FEW THINGS I ATE
by Faith Shearin

There are a few things I’m sorry I ate: a piece of fried chicken
in an all-night diner that bled when I cut into it,
a soup in an elegant French restaurant where I encountered
a mysterious ring of plastic. Also: a bowl of spaghetti served
with so many long strands of hair I wondered who,
in the kitchen, had gone bald. I’m sorry I ate the fast food
cookies that tasted like paper the same way I am sorry
I let certain men kiss me or hold my hand. I’m especially sorry
I ate a certain hot dog on a train that had been twirling for days
on a lukewarm display. Forgive me for all that cafeteria food
in college: packaged, bland, frozen so long it could not
remember flavor. And, hungry in my dorm, I ate bags
of stale lies from vending machines, once even a pair
of expired Twinkies filled with a terrible chemical cream
I am still digesting. After my daughter was born I bought
so much organic baby food my husband found the jars
everywhere: little glass wishes. One winter I ate exotic fruits
from upscale stores so expensive I might have flown instead
to a distant tropical island. Then, careless, I ate
from containers only my microwave understood. I know
what food is supposed to be but often isn’t; I know
who I might have been if I ate whatever I should have eaten.
Remember the time we ate Ethiopian food and spent
a week dreaming so vividly our real life grew pale?
Or the day we ate so much spice in our Thai food
that our mouths were softer? I’m not sorry I ate
all those ice cream sandwiches from my grandmother’s
freezer and drank those Pepsis with her on the way
to Kmart to buy more pink, plastic toys. She liked
the way sugar made me lively, and anyway,
she was suggesting the possibility of pleasure.
She made a vegetable soup that simmered all day
on the stove: growing deeper, more convincing,
and a carrot cake with cream cheese icing that floated
on my tongue like love. Now I am middle-aged. I am fat
and eating salads or, before bed, talking myself
into rice cakes that taste like despair. My father
is diabetic and must have everything whole wheat
and lean and my sister can’t have any salt. I’m sorry
I ate all that cereal when we first got married,
by myself in the kitchen, the milk pale and worried.
Remember how I covered my fruit with cheese
and mayonnaise? I’m not sorry, whatever
you might say. Then there were the lunches
we ate on the beach, watching the seals
sun themselves: thick chicken sandwiches wrapped
in a foil so silver they must have been valuable.

~ posted by permission of the author, © Poetry East: No. 90 (Food), Spring 2017.

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[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Patricia Toht on Pick a Pine Tree

Please help yourself to milk and cookies (photo by P. Toht)

I’ll always remember the Christmas my parents visited us in Virginia and we decorated a balsam fir tree together. Unlike the artificial trees that defined my childhood in Hawai’i, this one was real — it liked to drop its needles but how we loved that woodsy, fragrant evergreen smell!

We sat around the kitchen table and strung garlands of popcorn and fresh cranberries while a cozy fire crackled in the adjoining great room. This was novel for us, but our lei-making experience served us well when it came to handling big needles and long strands of thread. Of course our tree was the best Christmas tree ever, because with shared memories, mugs of warm cider, and a nice collection of handmade ornaments, we had made it our own.

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht and Jarvis (Candlewick, 2017) celebrates all the joy, wonder, magic and anticipation of finding and decorating that special tree. Written in jaunty rhyming verse, this book is well on its way to becoming a perennial favorite with its timeless sentiment.

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