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.

[review in f-sharp] Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman and David C. Gardner

“Blue skies, smiling at me, nothing but blue skies do I see.” ~ Irving Berlin (1926)

If you’re American (or a music lover anywhere else in the world), you probably know Irving Berlin’s music — even if you don’t think you do. He wrote for and about us — the average American citizen — whom he considered to be “the real soul of the country.” He wrote from the heart, easily capturing ours. George Gershwin considered Berlin to be the greatest songwriter who ever lived.

His songs are exquisite cameos of perfection, and each one of them is as beautiful as its neighbor. Irving Berlin remains, I think, America’s Schubert. But apart from his genuine talent for song-writing, Irving Berlin has had a greater influence upon American music than any other one man. It was Irving Berlin who was the very first to have created a real, inherent American music.

At Berlin’s 100th Birthday Celebration at Carnegie Hall in 1988, Walter Cronkite said:

[Berlin] helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.

So when we celebrate major holidays, Berlin is there (“Easter Parade,” “White Christmas”). He’s with us when we watch a classic musical on the telly (“Top Hat,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Annie Get Your Gun”). Since many of America’s most popular singers have recorded a Berlin tune or two (Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Rosemary Clooney, Willie Nelson, Bing Crosby), all of us would have likely heard at least one of Berlin’s songs somewhere, sometime.

Most notably, whenever we gather to honor our men and women in uniform, we sing Berlin’s signature song, “God Bless America,” the lyrics of which we’ve known by heart since childhood.

Last month, a new picture book biography was released that introduces young readers to Berlin’s extraordinary life and legacy. Write On, Irving Berlin! by Leslie Kimmelman and David C. Gardner (Sleeping Bear Press, 2018), traces Berlin’s life from the time he arrived in America with his family in 1893 until his death at age 101. He wrote some 1500 songs, comprising a substantial part of the Great American Songbook.

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[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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nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Not to sound corny or anything (tee hee), but I love bow ties! Ordinary bow ties in any color or fabric float my boat, but foodie ones send me right over the edge.

Know of any handsome gents who need to spruce up their wardrobes?

These are made by Rotterdam based artist Rommy Kuperus of RommydeBommy. You may remember when I interviewed Rommy as part of the Indie Artist Spotlight series a few years ago. In that post, I included two of her bow ties, and zippity doo-dah, now she’s added more!

Do check out Rommy’s Etsy Shop for all her outrageous foodie fashion accessories. In addition to bow ties, she makes purses, brooches, and necklaces. All will bring a smile to your face and jolt you out of your ho-hum doldrums (there’s nothing like having perfect strangers offer to lick your handbag). 😀

Was I happy to see that she’s now making tea bags? Oh yes.

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2. New Book Alert!!! Doggone it, today is official release day for NANNY PAWS by Wendy Wahman (Two Lions, 2018)!

Nanny Paws looks after Ally and Mae the only way she knows how—as a dog would. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for her girls. She feeds them a hearty breakfast (cookies are best), picks up their toys (teddy bears fit nicely in freshly dug holes), and even walks them to school (running them there is fun too). But one Tuesday, Ally and Mae come home sick, and it’s up to Nanny Paws to take care of them…in her own special way.

Nanny Paws has already gotten *rave reviews* from Kirkus, Booklist and School Library Journal. I’m looking forward to sniffing this one out. How can you go wrong when the author/illustrator’s children resemble and act like standard poodles? Find out more about the book in this cool interview with Wendy at Mile High Reading.

And check out the cute trailer:

Happy Pub Day, Wendy!!!

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[tasty review] Food Truck Fest! by Alexandra Penfold and Mike Dutton

Kogi Short Rib Tacos

 

So, what do you fancy right this minute?

A little sushi, falafel, spicy chili, or a pulled pork sandwich? Wanna wrap your lips around some Brazilian barbecue, dim sum, kimchi tacos, Indian dosas or souvlaki?

 

Souvlaki GR, NYC

 

If you’re craving something sweet, there’s ice cream, Filipino halo-halo, cupcakes, frozen yogurt, red velvet pancakes, or mini donuts.

 

Mama’s Apple Cider Donut Bites

 

What’s that? You’d like a bite of everything? Well, you needn’t drive to a dozen places — just go to the Food Truck Fest!

Brooklyn author Alexandra Penfold and Google Doodles illustrator Mike Dutton joyfully invite readers to rustle up their appetites and sip, slurp, chew, lick and munch right through their tasty new picture book, Food Truck Fest! (FSG, 2018).

Told in rollicking rhyming couplets, this lipsmacking romp details an exciting and oh-so-satisfying outing featuring our favorite kitchens-on-wheels.

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