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.

a birthday song for my dad

James: fisherman, harmonica champion, Facebook fanatic, lemon meringue pie eater.

Not too long ago, when my father was a young whippersnapper in his late 80’s, we gave him an internet subscription for his birthday.

He was already on the computer playing video games, but had yet to venture onto the world wide web. He started out with a dial-up connection, quickly learned the ins and outs of sending emails, and before we knew it he was happily visiting news sites, participating in a chat forum, and placing dollar wagers on his favorite lottery sites.

 

Today, James turns 102. Willful and wireless, he’s burned through at least 3 desktops since his first foray online.

Every day he logs onto Facebook and shares clusters of updates with his friends. Ever the fastidious organizer, he opts for a recurring series of themed posts rather than mundane status reports: tree houses, bonsai plants, interesting facts, old Hawai’i, music fix of the day, joke of the day, and of course, FOOD. On Sundays he shares a hymn and a prayer.

Dad and me at Haleiwa Beach Park

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terry border dishes on happy birthday, cupcake! (+ a giveaway)

Guess who’s having a birthday?

You may remember this pretty-in-pink frosted cutie from Terry Border’s delightful debut picture book, Peanut Butter and Cupcake (Philomel, 2014), where she boinged on a pogo stick and bedecked a castle with colorful sprinkles.

This time it’s Cupcake’s birthday, and she’s planning the perfect themed party with the help of her best friend Muffin. But for every one of Cupcake’s bright ideas (beach party! boat party! makeover session! musical chairs! getting down with the limbo!), Muffin counters with reasons why they wouldn’t work (drippy guests! sick soup! disgruntled burger! squished guest of honor! decapitation . . . gulp).

Talk about a party pooper.

What’s a birthday girl to do? Well, she could follow Muffin through the garden gate. Won’t tell you what happens, but let’s just say it turns out to be the happiest, sweetest, tastiest celebration ever (I wanted to devour all the party guests). Looks like Muffin has topped himself. 🙂

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a million thanks for one hundred years

Happy December!

Hope you had an especially delicious Thanksgiving last week.

We were especially grateful this year to be in Hawai’i to celebrate my father’s 100th birthday. Yes, wow. One hundred years on this earth, an entire century, and who knows how many bowls of dumpling soup! 🙂

We had started counting down in earnest when he turned 93 or 94 — so thankful then that both my parents were still with us while we lost beloved uncles and aunts — parents to cousins a decade younger than me. Each year, each birthday became a bonus, time we cherished more and more. With each new health crisis, we kept wondering, “Can he make it?”

Dad (standing center) with his parents and two of his five siblings.

Thanks to the grace of God — for there is no other way to explain it — James Young Nam Kim — born before television was invented and now posting daily on Facebook — is very much still with us, inspiring awe and respect, and dutifully keeping us on our toes.

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soup of the day: happy birthday, bunny! by liz garton scanlon and stephanie graegin

bunny nine

Happy Happy Birthday Birthday!

It’s time to put on your party clothes and fancy shoes: for our first Soup of the Day for 2013, we’re celebrating a birthday book’s book birthday! Got that?

And I’m doubly, even triple-y excited because it was written by one of my favorite author/poets, Liz Garton Scanlon, and beautifully illustrated by Brooklyn-based artist Stephanie Graegin, who did such a brilliant job that it’s hard to believe it’s her very first picture book. You know how much I love featuring “first books.” 🙂 I totally agree with Kirkus, who called Stephanie “an up-and-coming artist to watch” in their *starred review*. Hooray!

But more about Happy Birthday, Bunny! (Beach Lane Books, 2013), right after we suit up for the festivities.

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