By Chana Stiefel
Popular children's book author Josh Funk (of LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST fame) has not one but TWO new picture books out in a single week! PIRASAURS hit the shelves on August 30 and DEAR DRAGON swoops into stores today, September 6. To celebrate these book birthdays, Josh has shared some Funky advice for aspiring kidlit authors. PLUS he's generously offering a TWO book giveaway—one of his two new titles to TWO lucky KidLitTakeaways winners. Details below!
KLT: Welcome to Kidlitakeaways, Josh! Fill in the blank: Having two picture books come out in the same week is like ________________.
JF: ...eating your two favorite desserts. Or maybe like having fraternal twins? I don't know, I don't have twins.
KLT: Are you marketing the two books together or does each one get its own unique campaign?
JF: More separately than together at this point. Each book is published by a different publisher, and each is illustrated by a different illustrator (Michael Slack's PIRASAURS are better than I could have imagined and Rodolfo Montalvo's DEAR DRAGON art is so gorgeous). Each of the publishers is approaching publicity from its own angle. Each book has its own trailer. In blog interviews (like this) and at in-person events, I certainly promote both books. But I believe that each book deserves its own publicity efforts.
KLT: PIRASAURS is your second picture book to hit bookstores after your wildly successful LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST. Do you feel any different with this release, like a more experienced dad? What’s changed?
JF: I'm still pretty excited! Maybe it would have been a let down - but I gotta say, having two books come out at the same time might even beat the excitement of the debut (I'm not sure - we'll have to see how this plays out). One thing that's different is that because of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, I now have connections with bookstores, educators, and bloggers. It's been easier to connect with readers, and in some cases, people are reaching out to me. And also, I know how fun it is to release a book to the world. I'm just that much more excited to do it again!
KLT: One of your new books, DEAR DRAGON, is about the relationship between two pen pals (a boy and a dragon). How did that story come about?
JF: I gotta thank my kids for this one (again). We were on our way home from a theatrical production of Charlotte's Web, and my wife and I were discussing her 8th grade social studies class's pen pals (Mama Funk is the teacher). At the time, my son was going through a serious dragon phase (two of our favorite read alouds were TAKE CARE, GOOD KNIGHT by Shelley Moore Thomas and WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN by Jodi Moore). He piped up from the back seat (say in falsetto toddler voice) "I want to be pen pals with a DRAGON!" And that's how it happened.
KLT: Congrats on the upcoming LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST, PART TWO. What’s it like to write a sequel? Did you already have the second story in mind when you submitted the first book?
JF: I certainly did not have the sequel in mind when writing the first one. But I wrote LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH about six months before the first one came out. I had seen Brendan Kearney's illustrations of the original and it opened up a ton of possibilities. Now that the world of LP&SFT actually existed, I was able to stretch it further - explore more of the fridge and really have fun with it.
While I didn't know if Sterling would want to publish it - they didn't ask for it, I just wrote it on my own without even telling my agent first - just knowing that they liked the first one enough to publish it allowed me to take more risks in the sequel. I knew that at a minimum, they understood what I was trying to do. And I honestly think the sequel might be better because of that.
KLT: What were TWO of your favorite children’s books as a child (and why)?
JF: Just two? Well, I'm gonna go with Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Why? I'm not entirely sure. I know it certainly caused a great amount of claustrophobia in me (being turned into a stone, being inches from the pebble but not able to reach it). But really, it's got a caring family, magic, and a happy ending. Plus, my parents must have read it to me a lot.
Number two would be Matilda. I was the perfect age for this book when it was released. It had the perfect amount of magical realism and the underdog heroine. Plus, I love seeing villains get their comeuppance through successful pranks!
KLT: What are TWO takeaways for aspiring authors?
JF: Well, I've written a 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books on my website (joshfunkbooks.com), that shares most of what I've learned since I started writing.
The first thing I'd say is: Keep Writing. Every book I write is better than the last. And that makes sense as the more I read, the more I write, and the more I learn, I'm improving. Just like anything, writing takes practice.
The second thing, which relates to the first is: Keep Learning. Go to conferences, workshops, and retreats. Network with other writers and industry professionals. Learn about writing in areas outside of your genre - because a good story is a good story, whether in picture book, novel, or other form. They all need good characters, plots, emotion, conflict, and so on. Everything you learn will make you a better all around writer - so never stop learning.
Thank you, Josh, for your terrific interview! Find out how to enter the TWO book giveaway (one book for TWO lucky winners) below. The more ways you enter (by commenting on this blog, joining our email list, following us on Twitter @kidlittakeaways & tweeting...), the higher your chances of winning! Good luck!
About Josh Funk: 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 __________.
Find out more about josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.
By Donna Cangelosi
We've all been there- cleaning a closet, play room or dreaded basement. We look at the bins and bags, shut the door, and run away! "Next week," we tell ourselves. "Or next month," or better yet, "next year!" For me, "next year" comes every summer. My most recent project... my office closet. A storehouse of every toy and art material a child therapist or child could dream of. Some with a great deal of purpose. Some with none. But I love all of them. Where do I begin?
With the mantra "Keep, Donate, Throw Away," I proceed with determination and make three piles. Several hours later, voila! A beautiful, organized closet. Admiring my accomplishment, it occurred to me that this mantra can work when revising picture books.
KEEP-The words and lines of our stories that engage the reader, develop characters, add heart and humor, move the story forward, enrich the arc, and make the picture book one that children will read over and over.
DONATE- The clever, beautiful words and phrases that we just can't throw away. Put them in their own special file or notebook and use them for another story.
THROW OUT- Extra words, adverbs, and descriptive lines that take away from the illustrator. Cut anything that makes the story drag on. Remember, kids love action and excitement.
THE TAKEAWAY- When revising manuscripts, remember the mantra, "Keep, Donate, Throw Away." And don't forget to leave a bag of opportunities for the illustrator. Please share your ideas for revising picture books.
By Chana Stiefel
Recently, I had the good fortune of winning a manuscript critique with children’s author Miranda Paul through the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. In addition to the critique (which was enormously helpful), we had a wonderful conversation about the importance of writing the books that are “true to you”—the books that come from your own life experience, your unique interests, and your heart.
Miranda has two new books out this year (check out TRAINBOTS & 10 LITTLE NINJAS, which arrives in stores August 9th). What are the keys to Miranda’s publishing success (besides being an all-around kind and generous person)? For starters, she stretches her creativity by writing in a variety of genres—both fiction and non-fiction. “Most of my books are a crossover between trade and school library,” Miranda says. “They are both educational and commercial. You can read my books at school or at bedtime.”
In addition, she describes her stories as “more than just books.” How so? After all, they look, feel, and smell like books (especially when you buy them fresh from the store). I decided to dig deeper into some of Miranda’s books to find out what sends them soaring beyond the book zone.
ONE PLASTIC BAG
Miranda’s debut picture book is the true story of Isatou Ceesay, a young woman from Njau, Gambia, who came up with a brilliant solution for cleaning up piles of plastic bags that were causing pollution, attracting harmful mosquitoes in pooling water, and choking livestock. ONE PLASTIC BAG is a gripping story. But what makes it “more than a book”?
WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE? A Community Helper
As the subtitle suggests, this book is more than an interactive read-aloud. It’s a guessing game! With lively rhyme, each alternating spread displays pairs of hands doing a specific task (sketching, healing, keeping score…). Readers are asked, “Whose hands are these?” The book works on many levels. Yes, it ties into lessons on careers, community helpers, and STEAM, but it also raises the stakes by adding suspense and fun! I can imagine kids reading the book at home or at school and having a blast creating their own unique books based on WHOSE HANDS ARE THESE?
WATER IS WATER
With gorgeous illustrations by Jason Chin and Miranda’s lyrical rhyme, WATER IS WATER teaches kids about the water cycle throughout the four seasons. Kid-friendly details like hot cocoa, snowballs, and sloshing in mud puddles are interwoven into this heart-warming book that softly drizzles the science about cycles in nature. Beyond being a book, it’s also a song by Emily Arrow! Listen here: https://youtu.be/vzJwNGo-7HY
Donna Cangelosi and Chana Stiefel are picture book critique partners & friends who are passionate about kids' books & are eager to share tidbits from their writing journey with other aspiring writers.