An interview with author Josh Funk
The Children’s Book Review
In this episode, I talk with the super fun and fan-favorite children’s book author, Josh Funk, about his picture book My Pet Feet.
It’s quite possible that Josh is a superhero with the delightful power of making readers laugh with his writing. During the day, he’s a software engineer. And on weekends, he’s the author of books like the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series, It’s Not a Fairy Tale series, How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, A Story of Patience and Fortitude series, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, My Pet Feet, and more.
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Bianca Schulze: Well, hello, Josh Funk. Welcome to The Growing Readers Podcast.
Josh Funk: Thanks, Bianca. How are you?
Bianca Schulze: I am very well. I think the last time I spoke to you may have been kind of right in the middle of the pandemic on Instagram Live.
Josh Funk: Yeah, we had a nice little chat there. It’s been a while. Almost two years, I think.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. Well, I just cannot believe how many books you have out now. Is it 18 picture books between what you have coming out by the end of the year?
Josh Funk: Yeah, it’s 18. It is pretty crazy when you think about it.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, that’s amazing. So, is it three new releases coming out any day from now to the end of the year? Do you have three?
Josh Funk: Yeah. So, My Pet Feet just came out a couple of weeks ago, and that is illustrated by Billy Yong. And then my 17th book will be It’s Not the Three Little Pigs, which is the fourth book in the It’s Not a Fairy Tale series illustrated by Edwardian Taylor. And that comes out November 1. But you know how there’s shipping delays and supply chain issues all the time?
Bianca Schulze: We’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Josh Funk: And then the Fifth Lady Pancake book, The Great Caper Caper will be out on November 15. And that’s illustrated by Brendan Kearney.
Bianca Schulze: Yes. So exciting for you and all of us.
So, I want to talk about all your books, but I want to focus on My Pet Feet since that’s the one that has come out most recently. But before we dive into that, since you have written so many picture books, would you mind starting by sharing what guides you and drives you in creating books for children?
Josh Funk: Well, I think I like to write things that entertain me first and foremost. If it doesn’t entertain me as an adult, then I doubt that I would want to read it to my kids. And I think that the children’s books, at least picture books that I write, are meant to be read by adults to kids. Yes, there are some types of picture books that are read by kids to themselves as they’re learning to read, but that’s a very special type of book. The early readers leveled readers, whatever you want to call them.
And those are actually hard to write because they require a certain knowledge of how kids’ brains work and how kids learn to read in education. But I write books that are meant to be read by an adult to a child, whether it’s a parent or a teacher or a librarian or an older sibling or a caregiver grandparent and uncle, whatever.
I’m not a teacher. I’m married to a teacher, but I’m not a teacher. So, I was a parent reading books to my kids, and there were some that I really, really loved to read out loud to my kids. And that’s really what inspired me to want to start writing. And on top of that, that’s what I continue to want to do. I want to entertain not only the kids but the adults who are reading the books.
And I think the reason behind that is that if an adult is a more enthusiastic reader because they’re enjoying the book, they just naturally enjoy it. They don’t have to act like they are, even if they aren’t, then it’s going to be a better experience for the child. And frankly, the child is probably going to enjoy the experience of being read to and enjoy the experience of books in general and reading more.
And so that’s really what I’m trying to do when I write, is entertain kids. Obviously, first and foremost, but a very close second is the adults who are reading to them. So that the whole experience is exciting for the kids.
Bianca Schulze: I’ve also heard you say that you aim to help children fall in love with reading. Right. And so, you want kids, once they’re done reading your books, is that hopefully, it will enthuse them to continue reading. And so I’m curious if you have any thoughts or words of wisdom on raising kids who love reading.
Josh Funk: Yeah, I think that having books around and being an adult that reads and having your children that are around you see you read, just being a part of your life, is probably the most important thing, setting a good example. And I read a lot of picture books. Even as an adult, my kids will see me—they’re 17 and 14 now, but they see me reading picture books and they don’t really bat an eye because they know it’s sort of work, quote unquote research for me. But I really do like reading picture books, reading stories that have pictures in them.
And I read a decent amount of middle grade mostly picture books in YA, though. I like the YA murder mysteries. That’s kind of my favorite stuff. Karen McManus and those kinds of things. But yeah, I think just having books around, frequent trips to the library, and taking your kids. My son will come with me to the library sometimes just to come, and he’ll end up with two or three books. He may not read them all, but he may read all of them. And it’s something that he wouldn’t do if I wasn’t going to the library.
I’m very fortunate I live in New England. There’s a lot of bookstores around here, so I go to bookstores a lot. But just having books be around, be a part of your daily routine is something that really, I think, helps raise readers. And my daughter at the moment, who works at a bookstore, and my son starting high school, the one elective he chose was journalism. So, reading and writing are something that seems like it’s paying off.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. That’s great. Do you want to give a shout-out to your daughter’s bookstore?
Josh Funk: Oh, the Silver Unicorn in Acton, Massachusetts. But there are so many great bookstores in New England I would have to take up the entire time talking about them.
Bianca Schulze: I love it.
Well, something else about picture books and sort of raising readers is that a lot of parents, once their kids maybe enter first grade and second grade, there’s a big push to move away from picture books and to take on the chapter books. Do you have any thoughts on sort of rushing people through picture books and moving on to the chapter books? Do you have any sort of wisdom there?
Josh Funk: Again, I’m not a teacher, so all I know is what I hear from other educators but what my feeling is that kids should read whatever they want to read, whatever level it’s at. It doesn’t really matter if it’s too easy or not. I still read—well, I don’t get the newspaper anymore but into my twenties, I read the Sunday comics. That’s too easy for an adult to read, you’d say, but that’s why they’re there—is for adults.
And I think that censoring kids and telling them what they should read and even censoring saying a first grader shouldn’t be reading picture books, they should be reading leveled readers and a third grader should be reading chapter books, not graphic novels or whatever it is the studies show that that’s all wrong. Let kids read what they want to read. And the most important thing is not how well they read, it’s that they enjoy reading. Because even everyone’s going to eventually get to the point whether it’s through a lot of struggles or it was really easy for them, but they’re all going to eventually be able to read.
We all sit on our phones and scroll through. Yeah, there’s a lot of pictures, but there’s also text in there. We all can read. We all need to make decisions based on the words that we see, but it’s about enjoying reading and wanting to spend time reading. That’s really something that you can’t teach. You can only hopefully put the books in front of the kids and hope that they enjoy them. And telling them not to read something is probably counterproductive to the enjoyment of reading.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely.
So, here’s a good question for you, then, since we’re talking about encouraging or hoping that kids will have a joy for reading and that their grown-ups around them are fostering that joy. Did you enjoy reading as a kid?
Josh Funk: I didn’t love to read as a kid. I was a really good reader at first. Like, I read very soon, very quickly, all those little leveled readers you get in kindergarten and whatever. They had to cut off the corners of mine because I got to level five—but nobody else in kindergarten got past four—so that nobody could see that mine said five on it or something like that. I was good at it, and that made me proud, and it made my parents proud, but it didn’t make me love reading and love stories as much as I wish it did.
I really liked being read to when I was younger, and I have very fond memories of having Charlotte’s Web read to me in kindergarten—and my teacher wouldn’t go fast enough, so I made my parents go and buy the book and read it to me outside of school. There was a book called Lofty by Shel Silverstein, which I don’t think aged all that well, but I really liked it in third grade when our teacher read it to us in parts, and we stopped after the first part and moved on to a new book. And I again made sure to go buy that book because I needed to know what happened.
Something happened somewhere along the way. I didn’t really read all that much outside of school. It became kind of a chore. I don’t know why, but I was one of the kids. I read a lot of Cliff Notes in high school. There are some great books that I didn’t read in high school at least not as thoroughly as I should have. A lot of them written by dead white men that maybe don’t deserve to be read quite as thoroughly. But even so, I missed out on stuff and I totally regret it.
I read very slowly, actually, so I read very early, but I read about as fast in my head as I do out loud. So, my kids read much faster than me. I’m so jealous. Sometimes I play video games with my son and it’s one of those text-based video games where there’s a story and you have to progress based on a decision of A or B and he’s done reading it and he made the decision before I’m halfway through the paragraph and he reads so much faster than I do and I’m jealous. And it’s been years. He’s been reading faster than me since he was nine.
I wish I read more when I was a kid. And I started to love reading again when I was an adult. I think one of the things that I loved I ended up listening to a ton of audiobooks on my commute. I had a very long commute when I lived in Virginia in the mid-two-thousands. And I was in the car for close to 2 hours a day at times. And I listen to so many amazing middle grade, mostly some adults, but middle grade audiobooks. And that is sort of when I fell in love with reading again, which made a huge difference. And I realized that I was missing because I was listening to audiobooks for fun, and it wasn’t something that I had to do for school. If there was an assignment, those were the ones that were a challenge for me if I didn’t love whatever book was assigned.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, I do think that a lot of people say this is that when reading becomes a chore and you have to read, then that’s when sort of reading doesn’t feel as pleasurable anymore. And it’s when we lose a lot of middle school-age children and high schoolers because it starts to become a forced thing that they have to do. But I love that you mentioned audiobooks because I love listening to audiobooks and I feel like some people don’t count it as reading, but it is. When you’re listening to the story, you’re getting all those emotions, especially when it’s a great narrator, and kids, they need to listen and comprehend.
Josh Funk: Audiobooks definitely count as reading.
Bianca Schulze: Well, now I really want to talk about your day job because my kids are always amused by the fact that the title of children’s book author is often a side job. So, what does your balancing act of a day job and children’s book author look like? And do you find time to write every day?
Josh Funk: I am a software engineer. That’s my day job. I’ve been working for the same company for almost 20 years, for about a decade before I was an author. My first book came out seven years ago last week. But I had obviously started writing before my first book came out. I like coding. It’s fun. It’s a different type of writing. I sometimes like to say. I think that writing code is a lot like solving a puzzle. There’s a lot of logic involved.
But writing stories also has a lot of parallels to the same logic puzzle solving. In some ways, when you write a story, you still need to have a good beginning and satisfying conclusion and exciting action scenes and a good character and rising tension, a despicable villain, and all of the different ingredients. And you need to piece them together properly, just like in code. You need to solve some problem that needs to be written. And I write a lot of C and C++ models and simulations of networks, but that’s my day job.
And so, there are a lot of similarities to me. It’s not like a right brain, left brain thing. It’s all my brain. And you have to have some creativity to code. The most creative scientists are the ones that really push the boundaries and push science further. And it’s the same thing with writing. You need creativity, but you also need to be able to—I don’t know if you’ve ever written a novel, but if you’ve seen some of the computer programs, we talk about how people write novels. It’s like these giant three-dimensional spreadsheets about this character shows up in this scene, and that’s color-coded red, and this character is in that scene, and it’s almost like solving a big puzzle. So, there’s a lot of all of it involved in both creativity and science. Math in all fields, I think.
And one thing I do like to say is, if you want to be a scientist, it’s very important that you are a good reader and a good writer. Because if you want to study something, you need to take all of the research that’s been done before you. You need to read that and understand it so that you can do some new experiments and push science further. Because you don’t want to be redoing something somebody already did that’s already been proven, that’s already been written about. And if you do some experiment, some groundbreaking work, and you figure something out, figure out some new things, you’re going to need to be able to write about them so that other people can learn from you and then keep taking what you did and build upon that. So being a good scientist actually requires being a good reader and a good writer.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, that’s a great point. Yeah. It’s one thing to have these great thoughts, but can you articulate them in a way that other people can comprehend? I’ve never thought about that, but that’s very true. So, then I guess one could say that you do write every day. You’re writing code.
Josh Funk: Yeah, I did skip that part of the code. I don’t write creatively every day, though. I definitely don’t. I have a day job that’s 40 hours a week. My wife, who is a teacher, works a good 80 to 100 hours a week during the school year and about 60 during the summer. But that’s what being a teacher is. I have extra time that she doesn’t. And I spend time with my kids and my family, obviously. And sometimes I find time to write.
Other times I spend that extra time recording podcasts or writing newsletters, which is what I’m going to be doing later tonight. Or even sometimes it’s not writing writing, but an editor might send me notes on a manuscript and say, here are notes; you need to change it. Or I might get sketches from an illustrator for a book that’s coming out in two years, and I need to give my feedback on that. Or a friend of mine might send me one of their picture book manuscripts and want some feedback on it. And that’s not my writing, but they also do the same for me. We swap back and forth. So, there’s so many things about writing that I may not quote-unquote write every day, but I’m always doing something related to my job as an author every day.
Bianca Schulze: There’s actually so much that goes on behind the scenes for every single book.
Well, since we’ve talked a lot about reading and writing, now we need to speak about my pet fee. You’ve proclaimed that it’s your cleverest book yet, as the whole book is written with only 25 letters. And I have to agree with you that it is very clever and hilarious. So, where did this very creative idea to write a book about the missing letter R come from?
Josh Funk: It started with either a typo or an autocorrect, I’m not sure. But either way, I wrote the word themed on my phone when I meant to write friend. And I started thinking, what happened to the R? What would cause a friend to become a theme? Why would that happen? What else would happen? Did the other Rs also disappear? Did other objects turn into other things? Because all the Rs were gone.
And I often think about —not specifically illustrations—but I think about funny things I’d like to see illustrated. And so, I started making lists of words that, if you took an R away, it would become something else. And I just started a Google Doc, probably on my phone right after the friend theme thing, and I thought, I just made a list. And I didn’t have a story, but I had a list of a bunch of words, and I knew I would find a story that I could use these in.
And after a few weeks, I realized, well, what would cause a best friend to turn into a best fiend? Because that was originally what the title of the story was. This was before that app Best Fiends, or at least before it got big. It was in the summer of 2019, and I thought, well, if my best fiends person turned into something else, a friend turned into a fiend, what would that be? And I realized that might be kind of complicated to explain.
So, I thought, well, what if I took an animal that turned into something? And I went through different animals and really the only pet-like animal that has an R in it, that if you take that R away, it becomes something else, was a ferret. I thought, nobody really keeps crabs as pets. Horses are a little bit too big as pets. So, a crab would be a cab, a horse would be a hose. I don’t know; if we were in Westeros, maybe people kept crows as pets and that would become a cow. But that didn’t seem all that cuddly. So, a ferret really was the best fit.
And a ferret, when you take out the two Rs, it becomes feet. So, I ran with it, pun intended. I said if you woke up one day and your pet ferret had turned into feet, what would you do? And you want to solve this problem. I needed a main character that needed to figure out what happened to the R. There had to be a reason. It couldn’t just be like, oh, look, that crow turned into a cow. Why would you care? But if your pet ferret turned into feet, you would care.
And so that’s what happened. The main character in the story, it’s an unnamed little girl, but she has to figure out—it’s written in first person—and she has to figure out how to save her pet ferret without using the letter R. The whole book has only 25 letters up until they find the Rs; there are no Rs in it. And so, it’s got a lot of visual gags. The illustrator, Billy Yong, did an amazing job. I do think it’s my cleverest book, which is there’s no real good way to say cleverest without using the letter R. To find all those words, I had to use the thesaurus frequently because I had to avoid Rs. I wrote a book about the letter R disappearing without using the word letter or disappear or word brilliant.
Bianca Schulze: It’s brilliant. Honestly, the whole thing is very entertaining and the word clever just sums it up beautifully. But I know that you have a copy right next to you. I would love listeners to hear you read a bit if you don’t mind. Would you be willing to read your favorite sentence from the book to us?
Josh Funk: Oh, yeah. Okay. There’s one page here that has it’s all its visual gags. There’s no actual words missing, but you have to look really closely the pages. All the townspeople acted as if this was just a typical day. But there is so much going on on this page. Reading the text doesn’t do justice. I’m going to describe to you what’s in Billy’s illustrations. So, there is a bake shop that the little girl just walks out of, and across the street is another bake shop. But it’s not a bake shop, it’s really a break shop. They fix ties, but they really fix tires. But all the tires are ties. There’s a music store with band posters on the wall that say, Age against the machine. Paul McCatney, Men at Wok.
Bianca Schulze: You know, I’m a fan of Men at Wok.
Josh Funk: Yeah, there’s a bunch of dogs baking instead of barking. And more. There’s so much more. But my favorite page of text is probably the one where Doodles runs away, doodles as a pet Ferret, and says, the main character says: Come back, I shouted. I chased Doodles past a fog and toad by the old babbling book, down a tail, and into a gassy field.
And the gassy field is illustrated by a bunch of butts farting, and I didn’t know that Billy was going to do that. And the butts are also just coming out of a giant lizard’s tail. You have to see it for it to really make sense.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, no, it’s brilliant. Let’s just paint the picture here. So, if this sentence was read with the letter R, it would have provided a beautiful, lovely scene. So, it would have been: I chased Doodles past a frog and toad by the old babbling brook, down a trail, and into a grassy field.
And that’s a lovely sentence. Right, but let’s turn the page. Right? But no, in this particular sentence, I chased Doodles past a fog and toad by the old babbling book, down a tail, and into a gassy field. When you’re holding this book and you’re reading it and you have Billy Yong’s artwork paired with it, it’s so funny, it’s energetic, it’s hilarious. It’s so, so clever.
Josh Funk: We spent a lot of time towards the end doing some design work on the text because we want to make sure that adults would read it wrong, because, like, you read it, you might just kind of skim through it if you were reading it and think like, yeah, grassy fields, you wouldn’t think twice about it. But it’s supposed to be read incorrectly as gassy fields. Right. So, we made all of the words that are missing, ours purple, so that they’re sort of highlighted. And I think this will also make it helpful for little kids who want to see the word that is the special word and why things aren’t what they look like they should be.
And then, once the Rs come back at the end, we’ve made all of the words that have Rs green. So, you can see not only these are words that have ours in them and look at how part of it is just to show off my cleverness and look at how many words have ours in them. And the first three-quarters of the book didn’t have any Rs, but part of it is to show you that R actually is the most commonly used consonant in the English language according to the Oxford Concise English Dictionary.
So, if you look at all the root words out there, it is the most commonly used concept, which is why in Wheel of Fortune, R is number one. And so that made it both hard and easier to write this book because so many words have the letter R in them, and I had to avoid all those words, and for that, I needed a thesaurus. But also, because so many words have r in them, I was able to find a lot of words that, if you took the R away, became another word that could then be illustrated, and it would be funny.
Now, I didn’t make up any words for this book, so I didn’t take a word that has r in it, like birthday, and it became a bithday. Like bithday isn’t a word, so I didn’t make up any words. They’re all real things that turned into other things. So, it had to work when the r was there and the r wasn’t there. And on top of that, it had to work in the same part of speech. Like I couldn’t have a verb become a noun. Even if it became another word, it had to fit in the sentence.
Bianca Schulze: I can really imagine the conversations in a classroom if a teacher chooses to read your story; what could fog be? What could gassy be? And having them just think about it on a level, and before you turn the page, just really sit with the book, and try and guess what these words are for the younger kids and then for the older kids. How fun would it be for a teacher to read this book and then challenge the kids to come up with their own sentence that uses only real words, and the sentence has to make sense, not using the letter R. I feel like this is going to be such a great classroom book, as well as a read aloud at home between parents and kids.
Josh Funk: Yeah, that’s the hope. I also think there are enough funny, silly things that even if you don’t really understand what’s happening, like a letter is missing and you don’t grasp that, wow, this book was written with only 25 letters. A three-year-old is not going to care about that. They just want to see a fun story that they can connect to. And it’s about a pet and somehow Billy Yong made pet feet look cute. When I wrote the book, I had no idea what they were going to look like. I thought it could be a rabbit’s foot, it could be a human foot, I didn’t know. But somehow, he made pet feet look cute, which is great—I guess it always had to be that, but I had no idea.
I don’t think specifically about the illustrations when I’m writing things, but also things like chasing past a fog and toad and into a gassy field or when they have to try to get into a building, but they can’t get in the doo. A three-year-old is probably going to laugh at that stuff. And there’s more than just potty humor, but they’re still being chased by a flock of flying cows, things like that. There’s funny things that I think anyone would enjoy, regardless of whether you get the deeper level of alphabetness.
Bianca Schulze: Absolutely. I want to say that reading My Pet Feet reminded me of one of my favorite kids’ books, which is Wacky Wednesday by Dr. Seuss. I just love looking over a picture book artwork with my kids, especially when you can spot funny scenes because the artwork really just elevates the text. And I love it when you can come back to a book and you know that every single time you read it, there’s a really good chance you’re going to notice something else.
And so, I think My Pet Feet has that. Your goal is that you want adults to enjoy reading the books as much as possible. And it can get a bit monotonous when a kid picks a favorite book, and you have to read it over and over again. And so that’s happened to me. And so, what makes it more enjoyable for me is when there is so much in the artwork to continue looking and trying to find new things. I feel like your book offers that, too.
I am going to say that my favorite page beside the gassy field is the spread of the policewoman on a galloping hose. And I loved the kids driving Go Kats instead of Go-karts because my family loves to go go-karting. So, again, this book, the artwork that Billy Yong created and paired with your text, I feel like it’s going to appeal to so many people for so many different reasons.
Josh Funk: Thank you. Yeah, that’s great. He added so much to it also, Billy; he added a bunch of the gags that weren’t in there in the illustration notes, because of some of the bands I came up with. But he added Hay Styles for Harry Styles, but just other little things, too. He added the symbols eating the bagels. He added the tee, the T shirt, trees, like all these little things. And he’s been super fun to work with.
I think part of it was because this book was developed during the pandemic; for the most part, I had more connection with him than anybody else while making a book than any of my other illustrators. And it wasn’t all that much, mind you. The publishers usually keep us kind of separate, and everything official goes through the editors and art directors. But because everyone was Zooming with each other, everyone was virtual, he was like, well, I might as well just be virtual with Josh, too.
And so, he messaged me, and we chatted. He shared some sketches with me, and I never had really anything specific to say about artwork from the illustrators. They know how to do art. I don’t. I practice really hard at writing text for picture books, but I don’t know anything about making art. Usually, when an artist sends in their art, the only feedback I have as well, we can cut this line now because the illustrator already put that in, so we don’t need the text anymore and things like that. But Billy is great.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. I’m assuming that Billy was selected by your editor because I think the pairing was so great. And I had to look Billy Yong up because I wasn’t familiar with Billy’s artwork. And I feel like we’re going to see a lot more of his illustrations showing up in picture books after this book.
Josh Funk: I hope so. He lives in Singapore, and this is his debut picture book. He’s illustrated a handful of chapter books and book covers. But yeah, this is his first picture book. He also just had a baby sometime in the last year, so it’s been a busy year for him.
Bianca Schulze: I’m also curious about this since we’ve talked a lot about the artwork. So as the author and not the artist, do you get excited or nervous? Which one? When you’re waiting for the artwork, usually more excited.
Josh Funk: No, I don’t think I get nervous at all, really. I get nervous about if the editors want to change something in the art that I like.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah.
Josh Funk: I am always excited about getting art. And I have a book that’s not coming out till next year. It’s called Dear Unicorn. And it’s sort of a follow-up to Dear Dragon. And I recently got the illustrator’s sketches for it. And it’s been so long since I saw the text. I was like, wow, this is a really cool book. And my wife is like, you wrote the words. You don’t remember it? And I’m like, yeah, but it didn’t have the illustrations. I don’t really remember writing it because it was so long ago. But getting the art is so exciting. That is one of the two best things about being an author—getting to see the illustrator’s art for the first time.
I should mention that Dear Unicorn is illustrated by Charles Santoso.
Bianca Schulze: Oh, my gosh.
Josh Funk: A different illustrator than Dear Dragon. Yes. Charles was a perfect choice for this because you know who he is, obviously.
Bianca Schulze: I’m a huge fan of Charles.
Josh Funk: Yeah, me too. And he has so many different styles of art, and that was one of the main reasons why he was kind of the top choice for this. At least. I kept being like, it would be great to get a Charles Santoso style illustrator, a Charles Santoso type illustrator. And they asked him, and he had the time. But because this book—it’s about a girl and a unicorn who are pen pals, they don’t realize they’re writing to a different species; but they’re not only writing letters, but they’re also sharing art with each other, and they have very different art styles.
So, this book needed to have at least three different styles of art. It needed to have the art of the actual book, like, what the characters look like. But it also needed to have the art that was drawn by Connie, who is the human, which was sort of like a fancy style, at least to start, but it evolved, and it needed to have the unicorn style. Nic—short for Nicole, and she was sort of a bubbly unicorn, what you’d expect out of a unicorn style. So, it needed to have at least three styles of art that were distinct. It couldn’t just be like, hey, we draw art. Like the picture book has art in it. No, it had to have different things, and their styles of art sort of shift and merge towards each other throughout the book, which is kind of the point as they become friends by being pen pals.
Bianca Schulze: I’m very excited too. Literally, you’ve got no idea how excited I am now for this book. Okay, well, I’m very excited. Well, I do want to sort of close the loop on My Pet Feet here, and I’m curious about what your biggest hope for readers is when they’re done reading My Pet Feet.
Josh Funk: I just hope that they enjoy and laugh. That’s what I want to involve in my books. I think it’s not something that I know what you’re going to get out of it. Maybe you’ll want to write your own story with the letter R or without the letter R. Maybe you’ll want to read other books that have the same illustrator. Maybe you want to read it again. Whatever you get out of it, I think I want you to just have fun and enjoy reading. I think as you said, that’s my goal. That’s my goal as a writer. I want kids to enjoy reading, because if they enjoy reading, then they’ll inevitably be good readers. That’s the most important thing.
Bianca Schulze: Since we talked about Dear Unicorn, I do want to just learn a little more, in a nutshell, for your books that are coming later in the fall. You’ve got The Great Caper Caper as you mentioned earlier, and It’s Not the Three Little Pigs. So do you want to just share a quick spiel on each of those?
Josh Funk: Yeah. So, It’s Not the Three Little Pigs is November 1 in that one in this series. It’s sort of a meta-fractured fairytale series where the characters do not want to follow the narrator’s instructions and often disagree or fight back, or make other suggestions. And I try not to repeat the same story over and over again. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk was first. It’s Not Hansel and Gretel came next. And It’s Not Little Red Riding Hood. The third one, Red, wasn’t so much argumentative with the narrator but a little bit questioning. Also in that one, the Big Bad Wolf called in sick because Grandma is sick. Things are going around. And so, in that one, Captain Hook filled in for the Big Bad Wolf. So that was a little twist I threw in there.
And so, for this one and It’s Not the Three Little Pigs, each of the pigs has their own character, their own interests. And the first pig wants to be a builder, which is good because they need to build things in this book. And the second pig wants to be an actor. The third pig wants to be a pumpkin, and the fourth pig wants to be a storyteller. That’s right. There’s a fourth pig. And the fourth pig tries to take over the story.
Bianca Schulze: Funny.
Josh Funk: So, we have a bit of a competing narrator situation going on, in addition to obviously poking fun at the original story. Like how do you build a house out of dry stocks of wheat? That’s what building a house out of straw is. That sounds like a terrible plan. And little things like that. This is a story about pigs building houses. What kid is going to find that interesting? They kind of go at it from that perspective. And I mean, the original story, not mine. Mine is very interesting.
Bianca Schulze: We all knew what you were talking about.
Josh Funk: Yeah, I could see a pull quote from this podcast. The story is about kids building houses. What kids are going to be interested in that?
And then The Great Caper Caper. This is the fifth book in the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series; in these books, they all have fridge problems, like a problem that would happen in the fridge. And so, in the first book there was a race for the last drop of syrup.
So, I always ask kids, oh, have you ever fought with a sibling over the last bite of something or the last drop of something? And everyone raises their hands. And the second one, The Case of the Stinky Stench, was about there was a stinky stench in the fridge. Has anyone ever opened the fridge and smelled something kind of funny? And most kids have, and all the adults have. And then the third one, the fridge starts to freeze over in Mission Defrostable.
And the fourth one Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast—it’s called Short and Sweet. And that one, they shrink into tiny little kids and because they start to go stale. So, have you ever had a food that started to go stale that you were really excited to eat, but you couldn’t because it was all moldy and gross?
So, all of these are fridge problems. And all of them also have sort of a different genre. So, the first one was a race. The second one was a mystery. The third one was an action-adventure spy thriller. The fourth one was sort of a sci-fi comedy-magical body swap kind of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. But also mixed with maybe Freaky Friday or Big because they shrink into tiny little children.
So, in this fifth one, The Great Caper Caper, the light goes out, or at least in the fridge, the Great Light, it disappears or is stolen. And has anyone ever opened the fridge and the light was out? Probably rarer than anything, but it does happen. Those light bulbs do die every once in a while. And it’s because the evil Count Caper stole it. So, the Evil Count Caper, who lives in Los Veggies, he lives in a tower in Los Veggies. They have to plan a heist to steal back the Great Light. So that is The Great Caper Caper. And so, it’s sort of like getting the whole team back together. So, the genre is heist. It’s like a heist book.
Bianca Schulze: They sound really, really fun, Josh.
Josh Funk: There will be more Lady Pancake Books. I just turned in the text for the 6th book, which I don’t know when we get to announce the title or whatever, but it will be a sci-fi alien invasion movie genre.
Bianca Schulze: Congratulations. You’re on fire. This is amazing.
Josh Funk: And the problem in this one is, have you ever left something in the fridge that didn’t belong there? Like that time that I left my wallet. That’s the fridge problem. So, when I’m writing, I try to think of a problem that needs to be solved, and that’s often helpful.
Bianca Schulze: Well, Josh, I want to say there’s something that I, as a book person, really admire about you as a writer. You have all of these incredible books of your own, but you are a true advocate for other authors and for other books because you truly do have a passion to raise readers and encourage kids. You want kids to love reading. And so, since my day job is all about recommending books that I think kids will love reading, I also really enjoy it when somebody else does the recommending.
So, I’m wondering, do you have any picture books by other authors that you are just dying to tell us about?
Josh Funk: Yeah.
Bianca Schulze: Because I would love to hear what you’re loving right now.
Josh Funk: Definitely! A couple I picked up recently, actually, at the Silver Unicorn. One is called To Change a Planet by Christina Soontornvat and illustrated by Rahele Jomepour Bel. And it’s a really cool story about it talks about, essentially, climate change and how it takes a lot of work and a lot of effort to make sure that we can save our planet with some excellent back matter at the end. And it doesn’t sugarcoat it, but it does lay it out in a kid-friendly way. This is a book I’ve tried to write a book like this a few times and it hasn’t really worked out. But Christina Soontornvat, who has won two Newbery Medals, Newbury Honors sorry and has written a ton of great books. She managed to do it. So, To Change a Planet is great.
Another one is called Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, Alexis Bunten, and illustrated by Gary Meeches Sr. This book is a retelling of the original Thanksgiving story from 1621 in the Plymouth, Massachusetts area. But it’s told from the Native American perspective, and I think it’s a really sweet story and it’s told really well. It’s actually from the perspective of the corn and it doesn’t push it too far. I’ve attended on National Day of Morning or Thanksgiving, whatever you call it, virtually I’ve attended with the Native American community, has a video stream of what they do on that day in Plymouth, Massachusetts. This book doesn’t go nearly as far, make anyone feel uncomfortable about it, and doesn’t make white kids feel bad about anything, but it tells a different story of what happened on the original Thanksgiving. And I highly recommend that one. It should be in every classroom.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah.
Josh Funk: Another one I love is called The Boy Who Loved Maps by Kari Allen and G. Brian Karas. And this is a really cute story about a kid who loves maps. I love maps. I’ve always been a map person. I love going to the ice cream store in town where they have like a map of my entire town that I grew up in and rendered by some cartoony artist. I’ve always loved putting maps on walls when my kids were there, like my kids’ playrooms and things like that. I’ve always enjoyed maps. And this is about a boy who loves to make maps. Eventually, a little girl comes to his treehouse office and asks for a map about specific things, and eventually, she shows him all these things and he’s like, I don’t know how to make a map of that. I don’t think that place exists. And she shows them around town and it’s sort of a book about—I’m spoiling the ending—appreciating home. But it’s a very sweet book. I highly recommend that.
And then the last one I’ll share for today is called Kick Push: Be Your Epic Self, which is written and illustrated by Frank Morrison. And it’s his debut book that he has written. He’s illustrated, I don’t know, several dozen books already, but it’s the first one that he wrote and it’s about a little kid who comes to town and is a skateboarder, but he can’t find a crew of skateboarders and he gets advice from his parents and eventually things work out. But it’s one of those books about being you and being yourself, and sticking to who you are. But it was so not preachy that it’s one of those from a writing perspective, I’m like, how do you do that? And it’s beautifully illustrated. He’s an amazing painter. He started out as a graffiti artist, but it’s one of those ‘be yourself’ kind of books that doesn’t feel like it’s shoving it down your throat. And I think that’s what I love so much about Kick Push.
Bianca Schulze: One of my favorite things about picture books is the exposure to all of the different kinds of artwork. And I feel like you mentioned the graffiti artist background, and Kick Push is just so incredible to look at. And so, yes, I love the artwork about picture books, too, and the exposure that they give to kids.
Josh Funk: I don’t know much about art. I don’t go to a lot of museums. In the last 20 years, I’ve only been to a handful. But I do know that there are some people who go to school and want to be fine artists. But most of the best artists in the world are working in one of three fields, either marketing and advertising or animation or picture books. And that’s where the best artists are. And there’s a lot of overlap between those fields. I know there’s a lot of animators in picture books. There’s probably some advertising folks and marketing folks in picture books, too. I know that’s where William Stieg started, working in advertising. Obviously, that was like 50 years ago, but also yeah, that’s where they are. The best artists in the world today are working in picture books.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah. And you have some of them creating the app for your books, and that’s amazing.
Josh Funk: I’m very fortunate.
Bianca Schulze: Well, on that note, Josh, I want to thank you for a couple of things. The most important thing is to thank you for writing My Pet Feet and making me laugh. And thank you very much for coming on today on the Growing Readers podcast.
Josh Funk: My pleasure.
Bianca Schulze: We should just give a quick cheer and a shout-out to all of the word nerds out there because word nerds will most definitely have so much fun reading My Pet Feet.
Josh Funk: Yeah, I love the word nerds. Scrabble Dictionary. That’s what I used to make this book to come up with words—Scrabble Dictionaries online. That was incredibly helpful. Yeah, I love the word nerds, word games, and things like that. Always have. Yeah, I’m more of a Boggle person than a Scrabble person.
Bianca Schulze: Oh, my gosh, I love Boggle. Nobody plays Boggle anymore.
Josh Funk: I’ll play Boggle with you.
Bianca Schulze: Yeah, we’ll do a zoom Boggle.
Josh Funk: Okay, I’m in.
Bianca Schulze: Thank you so, so much, Josh. This was so much fun.
Josh Funk: All right, my pleasure. Bye.
About the Book
Publisher’s Book Summary: When the letter R suddenly vanishes, a whole town goes upside-down in this side-splitting picture book of alphabet chaos that’s Can I Be Your Dog? meets P Is for Pterodactyl.
A little girl wakes up one day to find that R, a vital piece of the alphabet, has vanished! Suddenly, she has pet feet instead of a ferret. Flocks of cows replace crows flying in the sky. Giant shoes (not shores!) live on the sandy beaches of her town.
What could have happened to the eighteenth letter of the alphabet? Did it get lost—or stolen? One way or another, the town needs to be saved!
Buy the Book
You can visit Josh Funk at https://www.joshfunkbooks.com/.
Order the word nerd game Boggle.
Order a copy of To Change a Planet by Christina Soontornvat and Rahele Jomepour Bell.
Order a copy of Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, Alexis Bunten, and Gary Meeches Sr.
Order a copy of The Boy Who Loved Maps by Kari Allen and G. Brian Karas.
Order a copy of Kick Push by Frank Morrison.
- About My Pet Feet.
- Writing for the laughs and enjoyment of parents and kids.
- Tips on raising readers.
- On reading as a child.
- The inspiration for My Pet Feet.
- Writing a story with only 25 letters.
- The illustration artwork of Billy Yong.
- A peek into Dear Unicorn, The Great Caper Caper, and It’s Not the Three Little Pigs.
- The books Josh is reading now.
Thank you for listening to the Growing Readers Podcast episode: Josh Funk Discusses My Pet Feet. For the latest episodes from The Growing Readers Podcast, Follow Now on Spotify. For similar books and articles, you can check out all of our content tagged with Alphabet Books, Humorous Books, Josh Funk, Pets, and Picture Book.