Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney Discuss Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast, and a Stinky Stench
The Children’s Book Review | June 23, 2017
For the most part, authors and illustrators do not work side-by-side on picture book projects. In fact, generally the author and illustrator are paired together by an editor—and they quite often live in two different countries. In the case of the hilarious LADY PANCAKE AND SIR FRENCH TOAST picture books, Josh Funk is from the US and Brendan Kearney is from the UK. After already collaborating on 2 books together, this is the first time they have talked to each other about their processes and inner thoughts on creating the characters and stories of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast—not to be confused with Sir Eggy Bread (read below). Get ready to laugh . . .
Let the Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney Discussion Begin
Josh Funk: Hey, Brendan!
Brendan Kearney: Hi Josh! It’s great to finally have the opportunity to talk to you about all of this. I have had so much fun working on these books with you. I have been laughing about it all since I saw the first manuscript!
JF: Thanks! Your illustrations are perfect! I’m thrilled that The Children’s Book Review has allowed me to ask you questions! I have so many! I don’t know where to begin! No, really, I don’t. Umm, maybe you should go first.
BK: I guess my first question would be … what was the inspiration behind Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast? Did you start with the characters, or did you have a story in mind and develop the characters from there?
JF: It was definitely the characters. I started with a pancake and French toast that were arguing. I believe the idea came to me from my own two kids arguing about what to eat – one wanting pancakes and the other wanting French toast. While they ate the waffles I made them, I asked them what a pancake and French toast might argue about and one of them said ‘syrup’ – which I thought was brilliant.
[side note: I can’t remember which of them said syrup, so today they argue about who came up with the idea.]
The first draft was Lady Pancake and Mister French Toast and there was no race, they were just arguing about who deserved the last drop of syrup more. It was almost like a political debate or rally. Yes, as the debate got more heated (pun intended), it attracted attention from other fridge dwellers and eventually drew a crowd – which was a perfect distraction for Baron von Waffle; the ending has never changed from the very first draft.
At the suggestion of a couple critique partners, I made a few important changes. First change Mister French Toast to Sir. The second and more critical – boy, I’m full of puns today – point was that it was too static – it needed more action. And that’s when I realized I needed to make it a race for the last drop! Fourteen drafts later, those changes certainly worked out well!
BK: Where do you begin when writing such hilarious rhymes? Was Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast always intended to be written in rhyme, or was this a development that occurred during the writing process?
JF: Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast was probably the 4th or 5th story I wrote and at the time, I really only wrote in rhyme. I’ve since written some stories in prose, but when I came up with the idea for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, I never really considered any other way.
Not all stories should be told in rhyme, and I’ve heard many times that if you can write your story in prose, you probably should (in fact, I tend to agree with this). But I think that rhyme adds a bit of charm to stories when done well. For these particular stories, I think it probably helps with keeping the frenetic pace of the race for the syrup and the escalating search for the stinky stench.
I will say that I spend a lot of time with both an online thesaurus and rhyming dictionary. At first I worried that this might constitute some sort of cheating – but then I realized the truth is that I’m trying to make the best books I can using whatever resources are available.
BK: How do you consistently come up with such funny settings and place names? My personal favourites are Mount Everbean and Sauerkraut Peak! Are these based on places in your own fridge?
JF: Haha! Definitely not my own fridge. At first a lot of it just came from the flow of the words. Sauerkraut had to be a three syllable food word with the emphasis on the first syllable. And obviously it had to be something you can ski down. In a near final draft, it was actually ‘skiing down ice cream on popsicle sticks.’
But the truth is that when I first saw the sketches for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, I realized how much more of a world there was to the fridge landscape. That’s when I started getting ideas for the sequel – based on your illustrations. I wanted to try to come up with as many silly things that I wanted you to illustrate. Trifle Tower, Taco Bridge, Casserole Cliff, Salsa Ravine, and on and on.
Mount Everbean was originally a combination of the bean avalanche from book 1 (sorry for making you illustrate that again) and a play on Mt. Everest. But every time I say it I think of Katniss Everdeen of the Hunger Games. (Ooh! That gives me a good idea for another story! A Hunger Games-style arena in the fridge! I’ll have to see if they’re up for a book 3!)
BK: I am guessing that you and your family are big fans of Breakfast foods, but if you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life what would you choose? Is there anything you can’t stand?
JF: We do like a nice brunch every now and then. My personal favorite are the waffle machines at hotels where you pour in the batter, close and flip the lid, and wait 3 minutes for it to beep!
If I could only eat one food for the rest of my life it would be candy corn. Of course if all I ate were raw sugar, my life probably wouldn’t last more than a few weeks. It’s not a wise choice. But it’s the truth. (can I also have a multivitamin?)
And despite the fact that I’m a vegetarian, I simply despise mushrooms. They’re slimy. They’re dirty. And they’re a fungus. You know what else is fungus? FUNGUS! And who wants to eat that?!? Ewwwww!
BK: One final question, if you had to choose a team, are you ‘Team Lady Pancake’ or ‘Team Sir French Toast’?
JF: Team Baron von Waffle! Bwahahahahaha!
Now it’s my turn! The first set of sketches I saw had about 10 or 12 different characters, but they were already so well-developed (whipped cream hair with cherry, strawberry hat, twin beets, and on and on). So which character did you start sketching first – Lady Pancake or Sir French Toast? How long did it take to get their ‘accessories’ right? What else did you experiment with that didn’t make it into the final draft?
BK: I think I originally started with Lady Pancake and to begin with I found it difficult to make her look female. I think this is where the accessory idea originated. I thought Whipped cream was about right as it allowed me to create a fairly crazy hair-do. So it went from there really…. I then decided that it would be fun if most of the main characters had accessories too, and so I thought to myself ‘If I was a Waffle or a French Toast, how would I accessorize with stuff from the Fridge?’
JF: I live in the US, while you live in the UK. I know that there are lots of words that mean different things, even though we generally speak the same language. Based on your illustrations, I sometimes wonder if there are lots of differences in food, too – but it might just be you making visual jokes. For example, in Corn Chowder Lake, there are floating corn on the cob – I think that one is just a joke. Also, in an earlier version of The Case of the Stinky Stench, our heroes rowed through Corn Chowder Lake with ‘pretzel stick oars’ (it was later changed to ‘carrot stick oars’) – but you’re pretzel sticks oars were incredibly unique.
Our pretzel sticks in the states are just that – sticks. Are yours different in the UK? Do you not have pretzel sticks? Do I sometimes write about foods that you’ve never heard of and have to look up because they’re completely American?
BK: Haha yeah I have realised that there are quite a few differences! Over here we have these tiny little pretzels that come in bags (they are super salty), and I thought that was what you meant! I was so confident, I didn’t even look it up! I will have to try some of those pretzel sticks next time I am in the States. Is that the reason it changed to carrot sticks?
Embarrassingly, I also have to admit that when I got the first manuscript through I wasn’t quite sure what french toast was! I did some research though and I’m pretty sure it is what we call ‘Eggy Bread’ over here (I love eggy bread by the way). ‘Lady Pancake and Sir Eggy Bread’ definitely doesn’t have the same ring to it!
JF: What’s been your favorite character to illustrate in the series? What was your favorite spread? What’s been your least favorite?
BK: My favourite character to draw has to be Lady Pancake. I feel like I know her the best and look forward to seeing what she gets up to next!
I have really enjoyed working on the covers and the fold out spreads for these books! Trying to create a similar feel for the series has been an interesting challenge and I really enjoyed developing the title typography, but to be honest every spread has been great fun. I really look forward to getting your manuscripts through and reading them for the first time. It is so easy to visualize what is happening thanks to your genius plot lines and hilarious rhymes!
I think I would have to say the bean avalanche (from the first book) has been my least favourite spread to illustrate. It took so long to colour all the individual beans and add all the faces. However I think it has turned out to be one of my favourite spreads and I don’t know if you noticed but I drew in one super unhappy bean. I think his little face really captures how I was feeling as I was colouring it. I encourage you to try and find him!
JF: Are there any foods you really want to illustrate that I haven’t written about? Because if I were to write another Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast adventure (wink-wink), maybe I’ll try to add it in.
BK: I have to admit you have already included a lot of my favourite foods! I haven’t ever tried Artichoke dip but it sounds AMAZING! I am however a huge fan of Christmas food – especially desserts!! As I mention in my bio, I LOVE mince pies (I assume these are the same in the US – Sweet pastry pies filled with spiced mincemeat) mmmm… and Xmas pudding too! As for non Xmas foods, I really enjoy a good sandwich. I’m pretty sure carrots are EVIL!
JF: And this one’s from my kids (but I want to know, too) – how did you become such a great artist? By that, I guess I’d like to know – what one tip would give to young artists out there?
BK: I guess the one piece of advice I have is to keep practicing, draw everyday and don’t be too critical about your own work. It is so easy to compare yourself to other artists and come away feeling like your own work isn’t as good! Instead, develop your own style, do what you love and go for it! Enjoying it is definitely the most important part…
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Publisher’s Synopsis: “Uncle,” Croissant said, “the fridge is in trouble!
A mystery stench turned a whole shelf to rubble!
I’m the last hope or the fridge will be lost!
Help me or else we’ll be cooked, served, and sauced.”
There’s a stinky stench in the fridge–and our favorite foodie friends must solve a smelly mystery! Sir French Toast’s nephew, Inspector Croissant, begs him and Lady Pancake for help in finding the source of the foul odor. Could it be the devious Baron von Waffle? A fetid fish lurking in the bottom of Corn Chowder Lake? Featuring the same delectable wordplay and delicious art that won critical raves for Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast–this fun follow-up is an absolutely tasty treat for kids and adults alike!
Ages 5-8 | Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-1454919605
Written by Josh Funk
Illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Publisher’s Synopsis: A thoroughly delicious picture book about the funniest “food fight” ever! Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast have a beautiful friendship—until they discover that there’s ONLY ONE DROP of maple syrup left. Off they go, racing past the Orange Juice Fountain, skiing through Sauerkraut Peak, and reeling down the linguini. But who will enjoy the sweet taste of victory? And could working together be better than tearing each other apart? The action-packed rhyme makes for an adrenaline-filled breakfast . . . even without a drop of coffee!
Ages 5-8 | Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books | 2015 | ISBN-13: 978-1454914044
About Josh Funk
Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books – such as Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and its sequel The Case of the Stinky Stench along with Pirasaurs!, Dear Dragon, It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Albie Newton, Lost in the Library, and more coming soon!
Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was 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 __________.
About Brendan Kearney
Brendan Kearney is an illustrator from the UK. While studying architecture at university, he realized he didn’t like rulers. He then discovered that it wasn’t essential to use a ruler when illustrating children’s books. Now he specializes in illustrating children’s books, bringing his own chaotic style and ideas to any project. He is also the illustrator of the first Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast and Bertie Wings It (both Sterling).
This interview—Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney Discuss Lady Pancake, Sir French Toast, and a Stinky Stench—was conducted by Josh Funk and Brendan Kearney. For similar books and articles, follow along with our content tagged with Brendan Kearney, Food, Humorous Books, Josh Funk, Picture Books, and Rhyming Text.