Meet Josh Funk
Today Josh Funk, author of Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, and Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast drops by to talk about his work, his influences, upcoming books, and a very special ironing board!
What were some of the books you enjoyed most as a child?
Hmm. I hate starting this interview off negatively, but I find this question a bit problematic as it’s in the past tense. In many (most?) ways I’m still very much a child. Hee hee (wink).
I had a lot of the standard favorite picture books: Corduroy, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, Caps for Sale, The Lorax, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile.
But one of my more underrated favorites is The Adventures of the S.S. Happiness Crew: The First Adventure: Cap’n Joshua’s Dangerous Dilemma. The illustrations probably look familiar as it’s Eric Hill of the Spot series. My Aunt Betty gave me this book on the day my younger brother was born (I was three). I think it was the first book that I encountered where I shared a name with a character—which I certainly found thrilling as a three year old.
Your rhymes are so inspired—have you always wanted to be a writer? How did you come to be a picture book author?
Actually, I wouldn’t say I’ve always wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, maybe 3rd grade, I wrote a rhyming poem about Larry Bird and another about Roger Clemens (I grew up a Celtics and Red Sox fan in the Boston suburbs). My parents were pretty impressed with the poems (and still have copies of them), but I didn’t really do too much writing after that as a child.
Until late high school and college when I learned how to play guitar. I wrote a bunch of songs, but I was always more of the clever & quirky type of songwriter, not the smooth and poetic type. It might have something to do with being a huge fan of They Might Be Giants for most of my life. When I had kids, any time I broke out the guitar, the kids just saw it as a toy, and I’d be halfway through a song before they started telling me, ‘My Turn!’
But around the same time, I was reading a lot of great picture books to my kids, and that’s when I decided to try writing my own. Some of my favorites included Iggy Peck, Architect, The Curious Garden, The Gardener, and Vunce Upon a Time. I was inspired, and it turns out that my rhyming songwriting skills actually paid off when it came to writing rhyming picture books.
I was quickly introduced to The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and went to the annual New England spring conference in 2012 – and I learned a ton. At the same spring conference in 2013, I met Heather Kelly who had just founded The Writer’s Loft in another Boston suburb and immediately jumped on board. Both SCBWI and The Writers’ Loft have been extremely influential in my writing life, both in regards to the craft and the business. Fast forward to 2016, and I co-coordinated this past spring’s New England SCBWI conference (along with Heather Kelly) and I’m a member of the board of The Writers’ Loft.
And I can still use the guitar a little bit. I recorded the music for both the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast book trailer and the Pirasaurs! book trailer.
Your books are so varied. What sparks an idea for a book in general, or what was the spark for any of your books in particular?
I often think about what I’d like to see illustrated. I can’t draw particularly well, but I sure thought it would be fun to see what a Pirate-Dinosaur looked like, so I wrote Pirasaurs! I thought it might cool to see a boy and a dragon as pen pals, so I wrote Dear Dragon. I was entertained by the idea of breakfast foods causing catastrophic culinary chaos in the fridge. So I wrote Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast.
I think the varied styles are mostly due to the fact that each of the books is published by a different publisher and illustrated by a different illustrator. But I couldn’t be happier with the look of all three.
Your books contain such rollicking rhymes—can you describe your writing process?
Well it took some time to discover and then implement the following tidbit, but the most important thing about a rhyming picture book is not the rhyme … or the rhythm. Most important is a good story. So figuring out the story has to come first.
I’ll spend some time getting to know the characters, their goals, conflicts, and making sure I’ve got a satisfying ending in mind. Once I’m through the brainstorming process, I’ll usually hammer out a first draft over the course of a few days to a week. Then I’ll revise. I share the manuscript with critique partners and groups over the next few days/weeks/months. If it ever gets to the point where I think it’s good enough, I’ll send it to my agent.
I’ve refined my process over the last five years, and my first drafts are better now than they were then. I know better which ideas to pursue and which aren’t as marketable. I’ve made lots of valuable mistakes along the way. But I still have lots to learn. I can always improve my process.
What is the best part of writing picture books?
Probably when a parent says to me that they’ve read a book I wrote 5 times because their child kept requesting it over and over again. And that the parent was happy to oblige.
Can you describe your work space a little?
I mostly write (like I am now, answering these questions) on my laptop while laying in bed. Sometimes there’s music or a movie on in the background (often it’s Scott Pilgrim vs the World). Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and have an idea or a line or a scene that I just can’t get out of my head, so I write it on my phone … again, while in bed.
So, as far as work space, I guess it’s mostly a digital one. I do most of my writing in google docs in a chrome browser, often with thesaurus.com open in one tab and possibly rhymezone.com open in another.
My office mates are authors Jess Keating, Tara Lazar, and Anna Staniszewski who I ‘speak’ with in google chat, while I converse with my editors and agent via email.
What is the favorite object in your work space and why?
Probably my puffalump, Monkey Dude, who you can see in my head shot above
You have two more books scheduled for release in 2017: a sequel to Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk. Can you give readers a sneak peek? Are there any other books on the horizon?
In LP&SFT: The Case of the Stinky Stench, there’s something foul in the fridge and Inspector Croissant (Sir French Toast’s nephew) asks our main characters to help him find the source of a terrible odor. They search everywhere from Onion Ring Cave to Corn Chowder Lake, confident that the culprit is right under their noses… but I won’t spoil any more of it for you – you’ll just have to wait until next spring. Brendan Kearney is back as the illustrator and I kinda think it might be better than the first one.
It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is my first story not written in rhyme. It was supposed to be the tale of Jack … and the beanstalk, but really … it’s not. All the narrator wants to do is tell the traditional tale properly. But Jack just won’t do what he’s supposed to! Jack constantly questions why he should sell his cow (Bessie’s my best friend) or climb the beanstalk (but it’s soooo tall) or enter the castle (there’s probably a giant in there). This one is illustrated by Edwardian Taylor – and he’s so talented! Follow him on Instagram to see his greatness!
And yes, there are certainly more books on the horizon. But … I can’t talk about them yet. Stay tuned.
I can’t properly call my blog holiday themed without asking you a few related questions, so…
What is your favorite holiday?
Halloween. Can’t beat candy corn and costumes.
Do you have an anecdote from any holiday you’d like to share?
A few years back I needed to wrap some holiday presents in private. So I went to the basement bathroom and stacked them up on an old ironing board. Over the next few days, the kids noticed the wrapped gifts and asked why they were in there, so I jokingly said that I was storing them on the ‘Winter Solstice Ironing Board.’
And now, every year around the holidays, we put all the family’s presents on that same ironing board during the holiday season … but we now keep the ‘Winter Solstice Ironing Board’ in the living room. Luckily, I haven’t needed to iron anything in the month of December since then.
Has a holiday ever influenced your work?
Nothing I can report on yet … but hopefully I’ll have news on that soon!
Well, Josh, I can’t wait to find out—and I’m sure readers can’t either! Thanks so much for sharing more about your work and influences! I wish you all the best with Pirasaurs! and all of your other books!
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin), LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH (Sterling, 2017), IT’S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
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 picture book manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.
Pirasaurs! and Josh Funk’s other books can be found at:
Connect with Josh on:
Written by Josh Funk | Illustrated by Michael Slack
There’s a new brigand sailing the bounding main with a crew more rag-tag and wild than any seen before. They roar their chanteys as they set the rigging with their “spiky tails” and play watery pranks on the newbie recruit Who are they? They’ll be happy to tell you themselves—“We’re Pirasaurs! We’re Pirasaurs! We rule the open seas! / We’ll cannon-blast you to the past! We do just what we please!”
All this commotion can be a bit intimidating to the newest matey who knows just what he’s up against: “With lots to learn, I’ve got to earn the crew’s respect and trust. / I’ll rise in rank or walk the plank…I hope I can adjust!” At the point of Captain Rex’s “fabled sword” this little guy—who has yet to cut his sharp teeth—swabs the deck, scrubbing and brushing so fast he ends up in the plesiosaur-infested deep.
Brontobeard steers the ship over the briny waves while “with handy hook, Triceracook / prepares Jurassic feasts!” which leads them all to “…slurp and belch and burp / with buccaneering beasts!” Of course these pirasaurs are after more than fun times—they want treasure! Velocimate navigates by using the stars while our seapuppy reveals that he uses his “smarts to map the charts. / But still we’re led astray!”
Land ho! The pirasaurs come ashore on a distant island. Can treasure be nearby? The crew fans out looking for the X, but no matter how hard they search, they can’t find it. “The crew begins to search within / The frayed and tattered map, / a shadow looms, the water fumes / revealing—It’s a trap!” It seems the pirasaurs had a spy onboard, and now that they’ve found the right spot, he’s alerted his true mates.
They come brandishing swords, sizzling cannon balls, knives, oars, and sneering looks. But Captain Rex’s troop is ready for them. While “a mighty clash erupts upon the sand,” the littlest buccaneer notices a very interesting development. Clutched in the claws of a saur enemy, he sees a fragment of a map. “Ahoy! Avast!” He shouts above the fray. “We’ve got to stop these duels! / Let’s share the scraps of each our maps / To find the gold and jewels!” The pirasaurs stop fighting and they carefully connect the two shards of paper. Lo and behold! The X is clearly visible! Together the two pirasaur crews uncover the treasure—and what a treasure it is! Not only are there gems, and gold, and silver—the chests contain the nugget of friendship! Now the pirasaurs want readers to join up and join in! “Through battles, brawls and fireballs, / Plus prehistoric roars, / The salty deep is ours to keep— / Come join the Pirasaurs!”
Like rolling waves on the high seas, Josh Funk takes readers on a boisterous journey full of twists, turns, and tricks with the rowdiest group of pirates ever to set sail! Funk’s rhymes flow as fast and smooth as a sloop on a fair-weather day. The new recruit is understandably intimidated by the Jurassic giants, but while these pirates may be dinosaurs, they are modern in their thinking. When the little guy suggests they share, they’re all for it, leading to the best discovery of all—friendship!
Michael Slack signed up all the faves—brontosaurs, triceratops, stegosaurus, spinosaurus, velociraptor, pterodactyl, of course T-rex, and some dinos that haven’t even been discovered yet—in this cross-epoch epic! And these aren’t the scurvy dogs you’re used to from science class. They’ve got eye patches, peg legs, hooks, earrings, and some pretty rad hats and jaggedy shorts. And oh, yes, did I mention they’re super colorful? Purple, orange, green, blue, mauve…. Readers can almost smell the sea air in Slack’s detailed, full-bleed pages of rowdy pirasaurs, tangled rigging, gross cooking, brave swashbuckling, and, ultimately, found treasure.
Pirasaurs! is definitely treasure for your bookshelves, as kids will want to read it again and again. Savvy?
Ages 3 – 9
Scholastic, 2016 | ISBN 978-0545750493
Josh Funk’s website has information on his books, fun activities for kids, book trailers, and much more!
You know Michael Slack’s awesome books! Find them as well as a gallery of illustrations and more on his website!
Ahoy, me Hearties! You be watchin’ this Pirasaurs! book trailer!
Here’s a fun game to play after reading Pirasaurs!
Avast! Pirate Treasure Map Board Game
Ahoy, Mateys! Avast! Somewhere on the island is buried treasure! Test your skills against rotten food, stormy seas, and even the Kraken (don’t worry, there are good days too!) as you traverse the forbidding landscape in search of jewels and gold!
Printable Avast! Game Board and Game Pieces
- Avast! Map: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4
- Avast! Pirate Loot Tokens
- Avast! Game Cards: Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4
- Card Stock paper (optional)
- Poster board (optional)
- Glue (optional)
- Tea bag (optional)
- Paint brush (optional)
- Parchment colored printing paper (optional)
- Print the Avast! Board Game pages (Options: print on white paper, parchment-colored paper or on card stock. To make regular white paper appear old – as in the picture – paint with a tea wash before taping together.See directions for tea wash below)
- Tape together the 4 pieces of the map. (Option: map pages printed on regular paper can be glued to a piece of poster board to make the game board more sturdy.)
- Print the Avast! Pirate Loot Tokens
- Cut out the Avast! Pirate Loot Tokens
- Print the Avast! Game Cards
- Cut out the Avast! Game Cards
To use a tea bag to make the map look old:
- Steep a black tea tea bag in 1/4 cup boiling water for 3 minutes
- Squeeze the tea bag dry over the cup and discard
- With the paint brush, paint the 4 pages of the map with the tea before taping them together
- Let dry or dry with a hair drier set on Low.
To Play the Game
- Each player chooses a Pirate Loot Token as their playing piece to move along the board
- Shuffle and stack the Game Cards
- Choose which player will go first
- Players choose the top card from the pile and follow the directions to move spaces on the game board.
- After moving, players should put their game card in a discard pile
- If game cards run out before the end, flip over the discard pile and use the cards again
- The first player to arrive at the X on the map finds the treasure and is the winner!
Picture Book Review