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A Girl and her Dog

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‘Meet Panda’ reading
Friday, June 1st
Children’s Museum of Wilmington
116 Orange St.
4 p.m. to 5 p.m.
www.meetpanda.net

Panda, Cammeron Batanides’ pit bull, was the inspiration for a children’s series of books, including the first installation, “Meet Panda.” Courtesy photo.

When meeting Cammeron Batanides for the first time, it doesn’t take long to figure out that she’s an artist. “I always have paint on me,” she laughs. “And it’s all over my apartment—I even found it on the bottom of my laptop.” It’s hard not to like her immediately. But there are other things about her that might not be so immediately noticeable: like the fact that she is now not only an artist but also an author. Oh, and her deep love for pit bulls.

Batanides, who will turn 27 this month, grew up in Charlotte and moved to Wilmington about eight years ago. She graduated from UNCW with a fine arts degree. Ever since arriving to town, Batanides has been creating art and exhibiting community-wide. She even did eight murals, both public and private, in the downtown Wilmington area.

Her current collection, which she is still adding pieces to, is titled “Brass Strings and Keys,” and can be seen at Groove Jet Salon off Princess Street. In this group of work, she uses acrylic paint on canvas to create works that are all music related. Many of the pieces portray houses that look like guitars or shrubbery that resembles notes—all of it existing in “this whole music world,” as Batanides says. One piece in particular, called “A Conversation With a Friend,” includes a winding path made out of piano keys. The painting is very surreal with a distinct whimsical quality.

For Batanides, inspiration comes from everywhere. “Even when I’m not working, I’m always thinking about it,” she admits. The same is true for her newest creation, a children’s book titled “Meet Panda,” which was released on May 15th. The idea for the book came from the unlikeliest of places: her rescued pit bull, who is also the title character’s namesake.

Batanides’ first experience with a pit bull was with her roommate’s pet, Max, who was a show dog. “That’s when my whole love for pit bulls began,” Batanides gushes. About three years ago, her cousin, who works for Cape Fear Spay and Neuter Clinic, brought her a rescued eight-week-old pit bull. She named her Panda because of her white and black coloring.

Panda had been severely abused in her few, short weeks of life, causing all of her bones to grow crooked. “This breed gets abused so badly,” Batanides explains. “To see her so mistreated and then turn around two weeks later and be the most loving thing … I’ve learned a lot from her.”

Batanides’ face lights up as she talks about Panda and explains how the pup inspired her. “I had never even thought about writing a book until I met Panda,” she declares. She wondered what it would be like to write a story that looks at life through the eyes of a dog, using Panda’s perspective. “And there’s so much advocating for pit bulls going on, but I didn’t know of a story about a pit bull,” Batanides says. So, she decided to pen one herself.

“Meet Panda” is based off of Batanides’ own experience with rescuing the real-life Panda. The book follows the story of a girl named Sophie, whose cousin, Melissa, surprises her with a puppy. The rest of the book depicts Sophie and Panda spending time together, forming a sweet, new friendship.

Naturally, Batanides did all of the illustrations for the book as well. Each of the drawings were made using colored pencil.

“I hadn’t touched one since I was a kid,” she shares. “But it was really important for me to draw the illustrations. We live in such a digital world now, and I wanted kids to see that it was all hand-drawn. And this was my origin of art: drawing.”

Batanides started brainstorming about the book last year and actually began working on it in August 2011. “I wrote it first and visualized what I was going to draw as I was writing,” Batanides explains. It took her two weeks to illustrate, and in February she started looking into publishing it. After doing some research, she decided to self-publish and take care of the distribution herself. As of now Batanides has several local retailers, including Cape Fear Spay and Neuter Clinic, Doggie by Nature, Two Sisters Bookery, and the Italian Gourmet Market and Cafe.

She received feedback from rescues in Florida and California, too. Recently, Spots 2nd Spot out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, called. Not only do they wish to sell her book, but they want to host a “Meet Panda” and Pit Bull Awareness Festival. They plan to organize an entire street fair with vendors. Ten percent of the proceeds will be used as fund-raising for two animal rescue groups, Pit Bull Soldiers and Justice Rescue. The event has been planned for Sunday, September 9th.

Batanides has been organizing her own events to promote “Meet Panda.” Aside from reading at the Brigade Boys and Girls Club, last Friday, she did three readings to children at the Cameron Art Museum. Afterward, the children made their own books using paper and yarn. “The CAM was fantastic and it was great working with them,” Batanides remarks.

Panda fans can rest easy, too, because a few more books are already in the planning stages. Batanides wants to write and illustrate a whole series based on her real-life experiences with her furry friend. She has started illustrating “Panda’s First Christmas,” which she hopes to release in November.

The next reading of “Meet Panda” will take place Friday, June 1st at the Children’s Museum of Wilmington from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Once again, the children will have an opportunity to make their own books after the reading. Visitors will also be able to make dog biscuits to take home to their own pets.

“Meet Panda” is available for sale at www.meetpanda.net, where there is continuously updated information on new retailers and upcoming events. Readers can see Batanides’ art work at www.artbycammeron.com.

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