For most of us writers, civilizations could rise and fall in the time between book launches. But with back-to-back book launches this week and next, Josh Funk’s output could have play-by-play commentary, like Monty Python’s classic audio sketch Novel Writing. We’ll stick with an interview, though. . .
Marianne (MPK): Congratulations on your latest book, HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER—or do you have two books, this fall? I heard a rumor…
Josh Funk (JF): Thanks, Marianne! I’m thrilled to share HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, illustrated by the immensely talented Sara Palacios! It’s the second book in the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series after last year’s HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE.
In this book, Pearl and Pascal use what they learned in SANDCASTLE (sequences, loops, and if-then-else’s) and now add in (figuratively and literally) variables. Pearl and Pascal have 10 tokens to spend throughout the day at the amusement park. They play games, ride rides, get snacks, but the thing they want to do most of all is ride the Python Coaster. And coding is gonna help them do it!
And yes! I do have another book this fall: A NIGHT AT THE BOOKSTORE: A BARNSIE & NOBLE ADVENTURE.
And Barnsie and Noble are exactly who you think – the Barnes & Noble stuffed bear and dog mascots. They’ve been around for a few years now, and I was thrilled that my editor at Sterling asked if I would write the very first story about the duo. It’s adorably illustrated by Jessica Gibson, and comes out on October 1st (yes, in ONE WEEK!).
MPK: Did you ride any rollercoasters while writing HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER? Or was the research more on the coding side?
JF: I’ve ridden a LOT of rollercoasters in my life. I’ve been hooked ever since the day I visited at Whalom Park in 1991 with my summer camp and the park cleared out due to rain, but our camp stayed. After the rain stopped, I rode the rollercoaster a dozen times in a row (there was no line, so I didn’t even have to give up my seat). So I didn’t really research much about rollercoasters. I’ll bet Sara Palacios had to research more, as she was the one drawing them.
I didn’t have to do too much research regarding the coding either. As a software engineer, I code every day. And as this was the second book in the series, I already knew that the next item to explore in the world of coding (after sequences, loops, and if-then-else’s) would be variables. But figuring out how to break down the concept of variables for the picture book-aged audience – that was the real challenge.
MPK: Whalom Park! I’d nearly forgotten about it. . . I was a little surprised when you went from the total silliness of your early books to the silliness-with-a-STEM-lesson coding books. But then, you do spend the work week coding. Do you see any similarities between writing picture books and coding, in terms of process?
JF: Writing, of any sort, is most often telling a story. And to write a good story, it has to have certain components. A compelling opening, relatable characters, a plot with rising tension, a satisfying conclusion, and so on. Coding, although requiring completely different components, still requires its components to all connect and mesh properly, just like a story.
But I don’t really think of it in those terms while I’m writing. It’s only analyzing after the fact that I’d look at it that way. So maybe it doesn’t make sense at all.
MPK: There’s an impressive range of settings, characters, and moods (for want of a better term) in your books, as well as a mix of prose and rhyming. I imagine the variety keeps things interesting?
JF: I often say that I think about what I want to see illustrated (and let’s be real – picture book illustrators are the most talented artists on the planet). So a pancake and a French toast racing around a fridge? I want to see that. A pirate-dinosaur? Count me in. A boy and a dragon who are pen pals? Oh, dear, yes!
And sometimes I just write stuff that cracks me up – and hopefully if it makes me laugh, it’ll make others as well. You always have to be writing a little (or a lot) for yourself.
MPK: Translations! LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST is available in China and LOST IN THE LIBRARY came out in Japan last week. What is that experience like? Did you have any contact with the translators, or did the publishers take care of that?
JF: It’s all the publishers. I can’t speak for all authors, but most of the rights we sell are world rights, so all international sales go through them. The only translation I’ve actually held in my hands so far is the Chinese version of DEAR DRAGON. (I’m still waiting on the others).
More than half of my books are in rhyme, which is hard to translate. If it rhymes in English, it’s unlikely to rhyme in other romantic languages, let alone Mandarin or Japanese. But it is absolutely very cool.
MPK: Your wife is a teacher. Have her insights had any effect on your writing life?
JF: My wife’s insights have had enormous effects on every aspect of my life, not just her teacherlyness on my writing life. I pretty much couldn’t do anything without her and the rest of my family.
MPK: Favorite aspect of the writing life?
JF: Visiting with young readers. I do it a LOT, both in person and via Skype. You can see a map of everywhere I’ve visited here.
MPK: Secret fear?
JF: If I told you it would no longer be secret, thus invalidating my answer immediately. 😉
MPK: Secret wish/hope? This question was inspired by Jess Keating seeing one of her books in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s home video—do you have a secret wish for who’s reading yours?
JF: It’s super cool when celebrities and influencers read your books, for sure. But it’s also just as cool (and I’m sure Jess would agree) when you get a message from a reader who loves your book so much that they argue with their family about whether the little ‘u’s on the tofu are noses or mouths and they HAVE to know the answer. But if Chelsea Peretti read my books to her son, that would be cool, too.
MPK: Great talking with you, Josh!
HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER
By Josh Funk, Illustrated by Sarah Palacios
Available today, September 24, 2019
A NIGHT AT THE BOOKSTORE: A BARNSIE & NOBLE ADVENTURE
By Josh Funk, Illustrated by Jessica Gibson
Available October 1, 2019
And to end on a sports commentary note, here are some statistics on this MVPB (Most Valuable Picture-Book Author):
Josh Funk writes 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!
Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 400 schools, classrooms, and libraries. He is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, Massachusetts.
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.