The Picture Book Buzz - Interview with Josh Funk
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes manuscripts.
Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 400 schools, classrooms, and libraries and he is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA. He’s also created a guide to writing picture books - https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/resources-for-writers and is doing readings on his Instagram page.
Josh Funk is the author of 15 silly stories such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the It's NOT a Fairy Tale series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series in conjunction with the New York Public Library, Dear Dragon, Albie Newton, Pirasaurs!, A Night at the Bookstore: A Barnsie & Noble Adventure, and more coming soon!
His two newest picture books, It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood and Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience and Fortitude, BOTH release on October 27th.
For basic information about Josh Funk, see our earlier interview here.
Josh, thank-you so much for stopping by to talk about your newest books.
Thanks so much for having me! It’s great to chat with you!
Okay, spill the beans (or the sweets), how did you get two books to release on the same day?
Well, originally, It's NOT Little Red Riding Hood was scheduled to be released in February. And then it got bumped to May. And eventually it got bumped to ‘sometime in the fall.’
Similarly, Where is Our Library? Was originally scheduled for June, then got bumped to the fall as well. Why did the shifts in release dates happen? They were probably due to lots of reasons – but none of them were COVID-related, if that’s what you’re thinking. All dates were finalized before mid-March.
It could have been related to publishers needing to organize their catalogs, what needed to be printed when, what needed to be housed in warehouses, etc. It could have been due to illustrations taking a little longer than anticipated, which is often not the fault of the illustrator, btw. Lots of times the editor/art-director request changes after final art is turned in and the illustrator has already moved on to new projects and can’t immediately fit in new deadlines on top of existing ones. It could have been because the New York Public Library wanted to have the release coincide with the opening of their new children’s center.
But after so many shifts and delays in release date, when both publishers came back and said October 27th, I leaned into it. It’s what my agent calls a “champagne problem.” And now I can check the ‘publish two books on the same day’ off my bucket list bingo card (note that I never dreamed I would ever publish 15 books PERIOD, so this is truly a champagne problem).
So, sometimes delays can be blessings in disguise! I see your bio says you’ve made a series of Patience & Fortitude books. Since two books aren’t a series (usually), how many more do you have either in the works or hopefully percolating on the back burner?
I certainly have ideas for more, but for now it looks like it’s just going to be these two. Stay tuned!
I hope that the editors like your ideas. I really enjoy these books. Was it harder to write Jack’s story (It’s NOT Jack and the Beanstalk, 2017), Hansel and Gretel’s story (It’s NOT Hansel & Gretel, 2019), or Red’s story -It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood? Why?
The first one, It's NOT Jack and the Beanstalk. Hands down. I’m not suggesting that it was hard to write it, but as we were putting the book together, the design was a big challenge and we learned so much throughout the process.
The nature of this series is that the ‘storyteller’ or ‘narrator’ is both trying to tell the story AND interacting with the characters who don’t want to follow the storyteller’s directions (hopefully resulting in humorous situations). Unlike most picture books where you can see all of the characters (as they’re illustrated in the pictures), in this book, the storyteller is themself, a character. But you have no facial cues as to how to read the words. This presented a problem: how does the reader know the tone of storyteller’s words?
Additionally, the rest of the characters spoke in speech bubbles, so there was no ‘she said’ or ‘he said’ narration. This posed the problem of how readers were able to quickly switch between voices when this was being read by a single person.
Once Edwardian Taylor finished the illustrations (which are wonderfully hilarious, btw), it was time for the designer to take over. And it took about four months of going back and forth between me, the editor, and the designer (AndWorld Design – who’s done tons of comics – was fantastic to work with) to get everything working.
At first, everything was in a single font and when I first saw it, I realized that it was impossible to read. None of the jokes were working, and it all fell flat. Eventually, after months of trial and error, we had two fonts for the storyteller (one for ‘on script’ storytelling, and one for ‘off script’ chatting with the characters), and in many cases we changed the size, orientation, and even the color of the narration’s text.
For the characters, each character had their own speech bubble color and their own text color within the speech bubble making it immediately easy to recognize who was speaking. Additionally, other effects were added, such as making the Giant’s text in all caps, which directs the reader to read it both louder and a bit more slowly and in a lumbering fashion.
Once we figured all of this out for the first book in the series, the rest have been easier to design – but also easier and even more fun to write! Knowing what Eddie can do illustratively, I really try to push the boundaries on his humor – I even saw him mention in Instagram how he had trouble drawing unicorns, so I intentionally wrote a unicorn into It's NOT Hansel and Gretel just to make him have to draw one (and he knocked it out the park).
Oh, that's "evil," but funny. Hang on a minute, I see those two waiving over there. Mind if I ask them a question? Awesome! So, Red & Patience, what’s really like to work with Josh?
RED: Sweet Jelly! Don’t even get me started with that guy. *Eyeroll*
PATIENCE: Truthfully, I wish he’d write more books faster. I just love to read so much!
Josh, now that you’ve gotten to work with Edwardian Taylor [interview here] for all three It’s NOT A Fairy Tale books. Was there anything in the illustrations for It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood that surprised you? What was your (or Red’s) favorite illustration?
Eddie adds so much detail to the background and really takes the jokes I plant and rolls with them. For example, at one point, Little Blue (Little Red’s sister) asks to play “rolling stones with the beetles,” to which Red answers, “Sorry, Sis. We can toss rocks down insect hill later on.”
Of course, Eddie drew the four Beatles as beetles on that page, and also added them to the endpapers and probably hid them on other pages throughout the book.
Text © Josh Funk, 2020. Image © Edwardian Taylor, 2020.
But my favorite character he’s added to any of my stories by far is the Ugly Duckling. He’s just so hilariously dorky looking, I LOVE it!
I think you two make the perfect combination for these books. You are both irreverently funny/punny. So, you’ve said that you don’t “like being told how stories should go.” What rules or traditions have you “broken” in creating your picture books? Are there still some rules left to break? Have you ever followed “the rules”?
I often write in rhyme which some people say you shouldn’t do. I also don’t often go by the ‘Rule of Three.’ My stories just kind of have a bunch of things happen. If they happen to follow the rule of three at some point, it’s not because I was trying to.
I think that my approach is (sometimes) to try and do things in the picture book format that I haven’t seen before. And if that breaks a rule, so be it.
It seems to be a working strategy. Looking forward to seeing where you go next. Uh oh, I think Fortitude is feeling left out. Sorry! Fortitude, can you tell me what is your favorite illustration in your book, Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience and Fortitude? Did you have long posing or action sessions with Stevie Lewis?
Text © Josh Funk, 2020. Image © Stevie Lewis, 2020.
FORTITUDE: I mostly just sent Stevie pictures and she worked from those. My favorite image is of me and my best friend Patience on Broadway! I’d love to see a show someday. Maybe The Lion King. I’ve also heard good things about Cats.
Wouldn't that surprise everyone if you showed up for a show! Josh, who or what was the inspiration for It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood and Where Is Our Library?
With the It’s NOT a Fairy Tale series, I don’t want to tell the same story in every book. With It's NOT Jack and the Beanstalk, we got our feet wet with the whole ‘the characters don’t want to listen to the storyteller’ thing and I feel like we pretty much perfected it with It's NOT Little Red Riding Hood, I didn’t want Red and the storyteller to butt heads in the same way that Jack and Gretel did, so I wrote her as more amenable to the storyteller’s directions – but not after thoroughly questioning them. I also added a little twist in that not only was Grandma sick, but so is the wolf. So sick, in fact, that Captain Hook fills in and plays the villain’s role which adds both confusion and silliness.
For Patience & Fortitude, the reason there even is a second one is because in the backmatter of the first one, the NYPL fact-checkers added a note that that children’s center where Fortitude finally found Patience was going to be moved in 2020 to a new building across the street (the first book in the series, Lost in the Library came out in 2018).
I was super bummed when I saw that note, as it sort of made Lost in the Library obsolete once they moved all the books. However, I quickly (about six months later) thought, “Wait a minute! That could be the conflict of the sequel! They both go into the library … but the books are all GONE!” And when I proposed it to my editor at Holt/Macmillan and the NYPL, they loved it!
I think you've done a great job with both books. So, now for the “required” craft question, do you prefer to write in prose (It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood) or rhyme (Where Is Our Library?)? If you have multiple books going at once, do you switch back and forth if one develops a roadblock?
I like to write whatever I’m currently writing – and if I don’t like it, I stop and write something I do like. If it happens to be rhyme one day, then that’s my answer. If it’s prose another day, that’s my answer another day.
As far as switching between books, I tend to like to finish a whole draft of a project once I really dive in before switching to another one. However, I do like to prep/plan for all of my projects so that when I’m ready to really start working on one, I usually only spend a few days/week on that full first draft.
This has changed a lot over time, however – it wasn’t always this way. It took a while to figure out how I work best, especially with the day job, promotion of other book releases, occasionally visiting schools, leading writing workshops, etc.
But it seems you have developed a system that works for you. How has Covid changed the way you are marketing It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood and Where Is Our Library? And can you tell us a bit about your Instagram readings?
I think no one really knows how to market books during a pandemic. So everyone’s just trying what they try and hoping it works. In some ways, I’m fortunate that all three of my books that are coming out this fall are sequels (including the fourth Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast book, Short & Sweet, which released on September 1st, 2020). For better or worse, each has already built an audience to a degree. If I were releasing a brand-new book, that could be considerably more challenging (I know it is, as several friends are going through this right now).
During the spring and summer, starting when COVID started, I began weekly Saturday morning storytimes on Instagram and Facebook. Over the course of 24 weeks, I read all of my books twice, one per week. Beginning in September, I put the storytimes on hold, but I’m still “virtually” visiting loads of bookstores for storytimes. If you’d like to join me, check out my upcoming appearance schedule on my website at: https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/schedule--appearances.
Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?
Unfortunately, due to the slow wheels of publishing, I don’t have anything else to share at the moment. But I do have several things that I can’t share with you. Does that answer the question?
Perfectly. We'll just have to keep our eyes and ears out for future announcements! How are you staying creative these days? What things do you do to “prime the well”?
I’ll let you know when I figure it out.
Ha! Thank you, Josh (and also Red, Patience, & Fortitude) for stopping by and sharing with us. It was wonderful to chat with you all.
Hey everybody, as a special treat, Stevie Lewis, the illustrator of Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience and Fortitude will stop by for a chat tomorrow!
And be sure to come back by on Friday for the double header Perfect Picture Book #PPBF post on It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood and Where Is Our Library?: A Story of Patience and Fortitude.
To find out more about Josh Funk,, or get in touch with him:
Keep an eye open for the link to the Where is Our Library? (Virtual) Book Launch with the NYPL on Saturday, November 14th at 11:00am ET. (https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/schedule--appearances).