If you haven’t had a chance to read today’s author-illustrator picture book yet, have I got a treat for you!
Benson Shum has visited my blog several times now. He has illustrated a number of picture books and is also an animator at the Walt Disney Animation Studios. Originally from Vancouver, British Columbia, Benson now lives in sunny Southern California. He uses watercolor, ink and digital tools to create his illustrations. You can learn more about him at his website or follow him on Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, or Facebook.
CINDY & PANDA is a picture book about a little girl named Cindy. Don’t be fooled by how cute she is. She is chaos in a small package. Sound like every toddler you know? LOL! She likes to cook “without a recipe” and you can just imagine what that kitchen looks like afterwards, can’t you? Throw in a panda and some pie and you might have an idea what this picture book is all about, but you’d still be missing what a fun time it really is. There are so many things in this book to love and adore, but you really have to read it for yourself to see what I’m talking about. I don’t want to spoil too much!
Welcome back Benson.
Me: I love how chaotic Cindy and Panda are together. What gave you the idea for this story?
Benson: The idea came about when I saw a photo of a little kid in his PJs and jacket with a deer next to him by the front door. I was like…wait, what happened here? All these questions popped up. Where did he find this deer? Were they friends before? How did they meet? These were the initial questions I asked when Cindy and Panda met. Panda just showed up while Cindy went to the garden to get ingredients for her pie. And they became the best of friends!
Me: Cindy is such a strong character. Did you base her on anyone you know? How did you think up all the little quirks of her personality we see in the story AND the end papers?
Benson: Thanks for noticing that, Jena! Yes, Cindy based roughly on my niece, who is very strong minded and independent, but also knows she needs help with some things. She knows what she wants and goes after it. I think Cindy is like a lot of kids, they’re growing and exploring and trying to be independent.
Me: That is so true. Nothing is quite as good as a nice warm pie and yet they are SO extremely difficult to make even for a proficient baker. I wouldn’t have thought of having a child try to make a pie, especially for someone who doesn’t like to follow recipes. Why did you decide to use pie specifically for this story, instead of cookies or cake, etc.?
Benson: I feel there aren’t many books about pies out there. And I also love pies over cakes. And with pies you can have many flavors from savory to sweet pies. In the back of the book, we have a wonderful blueberry pie recipe that is easy to follow for all ages. My art director tested it with their family and had their kid make it with them. They followed step by step and it turned out amazing!
Me: Wow! Testing the recipe is an amazing job description. This is such a funny and entertaining story about friendship, baking, and pandas. These are not all elements I would’ve thought to combine and yet they totally work here. How many revisions did it take to get these disconnected elements to be as cohesive as they are in this story?
Benson: Thank you for saying that. It went through a few revisions. I know Cindy and Panda would become best of friends, but what would bind them together? Maybe an activity? And with a pie that is sweet and sour, a blueberry or rhubarb pie can also represent the ups and downs of friendships, but when you have the both elements together makes for a perfect sweet as pie friendship!
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in creating this story?
Benson: I wasn’t sure how much text to add. I told a lot of the emotions for both characters through the illustrations. Which was really fun to do. The whole endpapers as you pointed out shared who Cindy was before the story started and at the back how their relationship continued.
Me: Yes! I absolutely loved all of the scenes you have in the end papers that totally add to the characters and the friendship. Was that something you always included or was that an editor’s request? What gave you the idea to do so many different spot illustrations that weren’t included in the story?
Benson: Thank you. A lot of the spot illustrations were done while I was exploring who Cindy and Panda were. What do they like to do? What don’t they like? What trouble would they get up to? And when I put them all together, I thought it would be nice to have them frame the beginning and end of the book. That way, we as the reader can imagine what happens after the book ends.
Me: I have to ask: what is your favorite sweet treat? Is it pie? If yes, what kind of pie is your favorite?
Benson: Yes! Pie is my favorite treat. I would have to say rhubarb (which I can’t seem to find much in Los Angeles), and apple and blueberry!
Aww! I have rhubarb growing in my backyard and my hubby likes to make a good strawberry rhubarb pie in the summers. Thank you for stopping by my blog again today Benson.
Dear readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to read this book, you might be able to win a copy! That’s right, Benson has agreed to give away one copy to a lucky winner. You can enter the rafflecopter here. Good luck!