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.

*

🐼 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!

*

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.

*

*

🎉 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 + recipe + giveaway] Penny Parker Klostermann on A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale

Once upon a time a wicked witch lured an unsuspecting brother and sister to a mouthwatering gingerbread house, a girl dressed in red ventured through the woods with a basket of wine and cake for her ailing grandmother, and a jealous queen disguised as a farmer’s wife offered a poisoned apple to her beautiful step-daughter.

Let’s not forget the runaway pancake, the pumpkin that magically turned into a golden carriage, the single pea hidden under a pile of mattresses, the boy who traded a dairy cow for a bag of magic beans, or the cheeky girl who entered a strange cottage and helped herself to a just-right bowl of porridge.

Surely food is the best part of fairy tales, which is why I’m especially excited that once upon a time last week, A Cooked-Up Fairy Tale by Penny Parker Klostermann and Ben Mantle officially hit the streets!

I loved their previous picture book (Penny’s debut), There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight (Random House, 2016), duly noting that Penny included a cook and his recipe book in her rollicking, rhyming, burpity-licious word feast (hilarious but “not polite!”). So, imagine my delight upon seeing how Penny cooked up a temptingly toothsome fractured fairy tale, seasoned with generous amounts of humor, surprise, suspense, wonder, and joy.

Continue reading

munching on frank o’hara’s “lines for the fortune cookies”

“It may be that poetry makes life’s nebulous events tangible to me and restores their detail; or conversely, that poetry brings forth the intangible quality of incidents which are all too concrete and circumstantial. Or each on specific occasions, or both all the time.” ~ Frank O’Hara

via Pop Sugar

It’s always fun, after a delicious Chinese meal of won ton soup, spring rolls, lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork, Peking duck, steamed sea bass, and beef chow fun, to take that last sip of jasmine tea and crack open your fortune cookie.

Oh, the anticipation as you hope for something positive: “You will meet a tall British actor whose last name rhymes with ‘girth,'” “You will write the next picture book bestseller,” or, “You will travel to a foreign land and have many exciting adventures.” 🙂

For those few seconds before I remove that little slip of paper, anything is possible. I hold my breath as I read, “I cannot help you. I am just a cookie,” or, “You will be hungry again in 30 minutes.” On a really good day, I’ll get “You have rice in your teeth.”

Nothing that helps the digestion more than a cheeky cookie.

I’ve always wondered about the people who write these fortunes. Seems like it would be a blast. You have the power to determine destiny . . . or, at the very least, make someone feel good. If you’re a poet, you can take fortune cookie fortunes to the next level. If you’re Frank O’Hara, you can create food for thought that is thoroughly charming and delightful.

*

Continue reading

[review + author chat] Candice Ransom on Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten

Do you remember your first day of kindergarten?

Though I had the usual first day jitters, it turned out fine in the end. I loved my kind teacher Mrs. Fujimoto, painting on a real wooden easel, listening to funny stories, taking a nap on my new denim sleeping bag, and best of all — snack time with milk and graham crackers. 🙂

Reading Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten (Doubleday, 2017)  kindled such fond memories. Written by the delightful, diverting, kitty-loving Candice Ransom and illustrated by Christine Grove, this must-read picture book is absolutely adorable and officially hits shelves today.

Candice’s cat Faulkner loves the new book, which is her 137th!

It seems Amanda Panda (who loves the color brown, wants to be a school bus driver when she grows up, and can run really fast downhill), isn’t suffering from first day jitters at all. She knows precisely how her day will go: she’ll print her name “in big, important letters on the board,” build “the tallest block tower,” and run “the fastest of anyone.” After all, her big brother Lewis did all of these things, so why wouldn’t she?

All art © 2017 Christine Grove

Well, she hadn’t counted on Bitsy — a diminutive, cutesy, head-to-toe-in-pink pest, who glombs onto Amanda as soon as they board the school bus.

For some reason, Bitsy is bent on being Amanda’s new best friend. But she takes the wind right out of Amanda’s sails, grabbing all the attention as she repeatedly beats her to the punch. Bitsy hogs blackboard space with her big annoying handwriting, builds a Kitty Castle that Ms. Lemon loves, and even contributes to Amanda losing a downhill race. With Bitsy as Head Princess, it’s definitely “the end of the world.” But Amanda has a plan.

She’ll go to second grade instead.

Continue reading

nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Another bit of serendipity when I stumbled upon Helen Timbury’s beautiful work. Helen is an Aussie graphic designer, illustrator and printmaker and I’m especially enamored of her linocut prints.

Nature seems to be her primary inspiration. She offers linocut workshops and you can purchase signed limited edition prints and boxed sets of notecards at her website shop. Gorgeous stuff!

*

2. New book alert! Today is official pub day for Listen: How Pete Seeger Got America Singing by Leda Schubert and Raúl Colón (Roaring Brook Press, 2017).

Listen.
There was nobody like Pete Seeger.
Wherever he went, he got people singing.
With his head thrown back
and his Adam’s apple bouncing,
picking his long-necked banjo
or strumming his twelve-string guitar,
Pete sang old songs,
new songs,
new words to old songs,
and songs he made up.

In this gorgeously written and illustrated tribute to legendary musician and activist Pete Seeger, author Leda Schubert highlights major musical events in Mr. Seeger’s life as well important moments of his fight against social injustice. From singing sold-out concerts to courageously standing against the McCarthy-era finger-pointing, Pete Seeger’s life is celebrated in this bold book for young readers with gorgeous illustrations by Raúl Colón.

Great to hear of another PB biography about Pete Seeger. This one has received a *starred review* from Kirkus, and I’m very anxious to read it. For more, check out this cool interview with Leda at Cynsations. Congrats to Leda and Raúl!

*

Continue reading