Candice Ransom's AMANDA PANDA

Continuing my features of fellow faculty at Hollins University, today we have my friend Candice Ransom...

Working Backward
Candice Ransom on
“Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten”

      My entire career has been based on doing things backwards. I didn’t get my MFA in children’s book writing until I’d published over 90 books. I began by writing YA fiction and worked my way backward to books for the very young. I feel like Merlin in T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, who said, “I was born at the wrong end of time, and I have to live backwards from in front.”
(Photos of the artwork are from the slideshow
Candice gave at Hollins University.
This is Candice, age 5, on the right, with her cousin.)

      So it shouldn’t be that strange that I wrote Amanda Panda Quits Kindergarten backwards, at least from the way I usually write picture books. All of my picture books began with an idea. My idea. I’d think and write and stumble through many handwritten drafts. I kept a little movie in my head, images of my character, setting, and the action. When the book was finished, I’d let the movie go, knowing the illustrator would envision the story differently.
      In 2015, Frances Gilbert, Associate Publishing Director, Random House Books for Children, approached me about writing a picture book story to go with a character an illustrator had created. I’ve known Frances for years, but we’d never worked together on a project. She told me she was looking for a “personality reminiscent of Frances the badger . . . a character who knows who she is, is a bit of a pistol, but still vulnerable . . .”
      I asked Frances if the character had a name—she did, Amanda Panda—and if I could see some of the illustrator’s sketches. I fell for Christine Grove’s marshmallowy pandas at first sight. Next I re-read the Frances the badger books by Russell Hoban (Bedtime for Frances, Bread and Jam for Frances, etc.). Frances the editor warned me to avoid an overly girly character. I agreed to try, and we both decided Amanda Panda would be kindergarten age.
      Right off, I found myself in the weeds. I’d never attended kindergarten. I didn’t know what kindergarteners do! I talked to a local teacher and watched the neighborhood kids. I paid attention to five-year-olds in stores and the library. I read lots of character-driven picture books and analyzed the texts. One day I woke up knowing that Amanda Panda’s favorite color was brown, that she had a rock named Hartley, and that she wanted to be a school bus driver.
      Amanda was me! The hard part was over! All I had to do was tell Amanda’s story. But the story didn’t come. Something was missing. And then a character dressed in head-to-toe pink skipped into the picture. How did a frilly, girly character force her way into my story? I realized Amanda needed someone to push against, someone who would be her friend, someone not like Amanda.
      Once Bitsy danced onstage, the story took off. I could picture Bitsy as drawn by Christine Grove. There was an advantage to knowing how the characters would be rendered by the artist. The little movie playing in my head was based on Christine’s sketches in my notebook.
      Both Frances and Christine liked my story. The disconnect I usually felt when a picture book story is turned over to an illustrator didn’t happen. Frances kept me in the loop as Christine worked on the illustrations. The project seemed less “my-story-bought-by-editor-illustrated-by-stranger” and more of a team effort. We got along so well that I wrote a sequel and Christine is now finishing the art.
      Would I do this again? You bet! One of the greatest joys in writing for children is stepping off the ledge of certainty. In this case, working backwards pushed me forward to try something new.

1 comment:

candice ransom said...

Thanks so much for hosting me on your wonderful, international blog! I'm thrilled to tell this story to anyone who will stop and listen, even people in the grocery store, and now I'm able to tell it to new people, even people from Scotland!

More important, I was glad you were at the launch party presentation. That cake was good!