My Official Picture Book Idea Month Post Is Now Available!

Just a quick note to the four of you who read my blog. My Official PiBoIdMo post is up at Tara Lazar’s website. I even snuck in two new previously unreleased sketches from Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (by illustrator Brendan Kearney). Or is it sneaked? Is snuck even a word? It has that dastardly red jagged line underneath it! The word snuck/sneaked definitely causes problems for a rhymer.


Also, I’m giving away FIVE signed books from my critique family over at my post: THE RAINDROP WHO COULDN’T FALL by Kirsti Call, REX WRECKS IT! by Ben Clanton, MONSTER NEEDS A CHRISTMAS TREE by Paul Czajak, RUTH THE SLEUTH AND THE MESSY ROOM by Carol Gordon Ekster, and ESTHER’S HANUKKAH DISASTER by Jane Sutton.

Happy PiBoIdMo Day #12.

PiBoIdMo Is Coming

November is Picture Book Idea Month. If you’re a picture book writer, you should definitely be signed up. And if you’ve ever thought about maybe considering the possibility of potentially becoming an aspiring picture book writer, you should sign up as well. (You can join the party here – it’s free)

What is Picture Book Idea Month? PiBoIdMo (for short) is a November writing challenge for picture book writers and illustrators. The object is to jot down one picture book concept daily. By the end of the month you’ll have at least 30 bright & shiny new ideas to jump-start your creativity and write new manuscripts throughout the year.

Every day in November, author Tara Lazar (founder of PiBoIdMo and weekend clerk at The Monstore) has a different guest blogger lined up to give some insight and hopefully inspire all of us writers. Check out this year’s calendar:


(pay close attention Wednesday, November 12th)

There are loads of prizes (signed book giveaways, agent critiques, and more).  It’s like a month long online party! Don’t be late!

So get your pens, notebooks, and brains ready to be inspired!

Books That Have Stayed with Me … and Inspired Me | Part 3

Concluding my non-blog hop post, the following books are ones that have stayed with me and inspired me as a writer (see Part 1 where I discuss books 1-3: Iggy Peck, Architect, The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, & Vunce Upon a Time and Part 2 where I discuss books 4-7: The Curious Garden, The Gardener, Jurassic Park, & The Sneetches). So let’s finish up:

8. Chicken Cheeks written by Michael Ian Black and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Why this book? It’s bare (pun intended), but it entertains adults as much as (or more than) kids
Chicken Cheeks
If you’re not familiar with Chicken Cheeks, watch this and you’ll get the picture:

If you’re not familiar with Michael Ian Black, you’re missing out. Bottom (another pun intended) line, while this story has a very loose plot, it’s the clever concept and stellar execution that make this book so entertaining.

And, just like Pixar does, picture books can and in some cases should be just as entertaining to adults as children. I’ve said it before (and I’ll say it again right now): I don’t want to be bored reading picture books to my many many kids. I promise you, the adult reader, that you won’t be bored reading mine.


9. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane written by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

Why this book? An inanimate object never evoked so many emotions…

Edward Tulane

By inanimate object, I mean Edward Tulane – the china rabbit, not the book. It’s like Pinocchio without the magic … but more magical. It’s like Toy Story … but more real. DiCamillo has become (and continues to be) a master storyteller, each of her books being quite different from the next. And while this particular story didn’t win the coveted Newbery, it’s my favorite of hers. It’s got a timeless quality, Ibatoulline’s illustrations are a perfect fit, but it’s the emotional journey of the main character that really gets me.

Maybe I’m being tricked and it’s easier to write an emotional story told from the perspective of a character who never utters a single word to anyone for the duration of the story. Or maybe this is the best example of writing that makes a reader feel.


10. D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths written and illustrated by Edgar Parin d’Aulaire and Ingri d’Aulaire

Why this book? It’s comprehensive, yet accessible by young children and finds a way to seamlessly retell stories leaving out the more adult topics.

D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths

It’s written and illustrated in the style of a children’s bible, but it contains fictional (or are they?) ancient stories. Every god is given an origin story and a classic parable or two. Every player from minor gods to major heroes gets a few pages summing up their importance. Not only is this the go-to Greek Myth resource for ages 5 and up, it shows how to retell stories – and retell them in short 1-2 page spurts that are still satisfying.

I’m not sure I’ll ever write anything like this, and maybe (fifty plus years later) books like this aren’t printed any more in today’s market (unless you’re Rick Riordan). But if I were a believer in the ancient Greek gods, D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths would be my bible.


And that’s my 10. Maybe 10 years from now I’ll have 10 completely different books….


What are your 10? (Post in comments)

Jump to Part 1

Jump to Part 2

Books That Have Stayed with Me … and Inspired Me | Part 2

Continuing my non-blog hop post, the following books are ones that have stayed with me and inspired me as a writer (see Part 1 where I discuss books 1-3: Iggy Peck, Architect, The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, & Vunce Upon a Time). But rather than simply listing them, I’m sharing explanations as to why I hold these books in such high personal esteem. Onward we go!

4. The Curious Garden written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Why this book? The first best book of the century

The Curious Garden

I can’t remember when I first encountered The Curious Garden. It was probably in 2009 when it was originally released, but it was well before I had any interest in diving in to the kidlit community. While the illustrations are fresh and modern, they still have a classic feel. This book gives me chills, a quality in a picture book I strive to someday write. The story is simple but also deeply layered, as are Brown’s illustrations. Yes, it’s Loraxian in content, but rather than telling us we can make a difference, Liam shows us how a single child can change a community (and the environment).

In my opinion (and to me, that’s one of only a few that count), I believe that 40 years from now we will look back at the first hundred years of picture books and The Curious Garden will be labeled as one of the best ever. To me it already is.


5. The Gardener written by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small

Why this book? Talk about shivers, this one may cause a tear or two

The Gardener

While both The Curious Garden and The Gardener involve urban gardens, that’s about all they have in common. First off, The Gardener is written entirely in letter form. I recently learned that literary technique is referred to as epistolary via a rejected query of my ‘soon to be published by Viking/Penguin’ manuscript Dear Dragon*. I very much enjoy non-standard storytelling techniques, as well as non-standard story arcs. I’ve never been much of a rule of 3 writer, myself.

The Gardener has multiple plots and subplots. Will Lydia Grace fit in in the city? Will Uncle Jim like his surprise? Will Lydia ever get home? Not to mention minor, but critical characters like Ed and Emma Beech & Otis the store cat. The wordless spreads are priceless. I think I tear up on each of the final three spreads.

And yes, this won a Caldecott Honor, but it doesn’t need the honor to be a classic. It’s also nice to find out that the author and illustrator are wife and husband (I’m still trying to get Mama Funk to collaborate with me on something. I haven’t given up, Mama Funk!).

* I used the word epistolary in every subsequent query of Dear Dragon. #QueryTip: Re-use the positive language and remarks from personalized rejections in future queries – if that’s how agents & editors write about your manuscript, then that’s probably how they’d like to hear it.


6. Jurassic Park written by Michael Crichton

Why this book? Because I faked being sick in junior high so I could stay home and read this book

Jurassic Park

What? Jurassic Park? Josh, have you lost your mind? Well, this book is here for one simple reason (stated above). I was far from a voracious reader as an adolescent. Having said that, this was probably the first non-Beverly Cleary / Cam Jansen / Matt Christopher / Johnny Tremain / book report book I’d ever read. Jurassic Park was an eye-opener.

Why not Harry Potter, you ask? Well, to be honest, when I came up with the list as a Facebook post, for some reason Jurassic Park popped right into my head. Maybe Harry Potter was too cliche? Maybe it was too obvious? Maybe because it’s 7 books and I would have a hard time picking only one (#3) or two (#3 & #6)? Maybe it’ll be in the next post (it won’t)? I really don’t know. Much of the list was sort of a stream of consciousness (see The Curious Garden followed directly by The Gardener). So, yeah. Jurassic Park. Deal with it.


7. The Sneetches and Other Stories written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Why this book? Dr. Seuss. Duh.

The Sneetches

I had a hard time deciding between this and The Lorax (I was only going to pick one Dr. Seuss). Of all the long-form Dr. Seuss books that espouse some semi-veiled political angle, I think I’ve always appreciated the subtlety of The Sneetches. And the outcome. The war never ended in The Butter Battle Book. All we’re left with is hope in The Lorax. How safe is the tiny speck of Whoville once Horton’s tale ends? (Perhaps I also don’t like open ended stories, huh?)

Also, in my effort to end all Facebook and blog hops, I subtly tagged characters from each of the books rather than actual people -> and Sylvester McMonkey McBean sounded more subtle than The Onceler or The Lorax (not much more subtle, I know).

I know that no writer can ever write like Dr. Seuss or s/he will simply be copying Dr. Seuss, but while waiting for the midnight release or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at Borders (R.I.P.) in Sterling, VA, I read that Dr. Seuss fixated on every syllable in his stories. I believe that’s one of the reasons why his rhythm was so perfect. I also believe that not only every word, but every syllable deserves that kind of attention (and as I said earlier, my beliefs are really all that’s important to me).

And those other stories aren’t bad either. But I really chose this for The Sneetches.


The final installment of this series will appear … soonish!


Jump to Part 1

Jump to Part 3

Books That Have Stayed with Me … and Inspired Me | Part 1

As you know, I’m not really into blog hops. I’ll do one if people ask me, but I never pass it along. I have a strict Blog Hops Die Here policy. I was recently tagged by Carrie Charley Brown on a Facebook-style hop where I was supposed to list 10 books that have stayed with me in some way.  Like I do with blog hops, I obliged and wrote my own Facebook status listing the books. And as I did it, I found that I had a ton of fun putting my list together.

Because the 10 books give some insight into who I am as a reader, and probably as a writer, I thought it might be interesting to share with my 3 (yes, I now have 3!) fans.

But rather than simply listing my ten books, I thought I would share a little bit about why these ten books are the ten I came up with. So here goes:

1. Iggy Peck, Architect written by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts

Why this book? In short, utter inspiration.

Iggy Peck Architect

I’ve actually written about this book before, both on this blog and on Off the Library Shelf, my now sporadic family book review blog. But to put it plainly, Iggy Peck, Architect is the book that made me want to be a writer. The amazing complex rhymes along with advanced language provided the blueprint (pun intended) for my style. While I didn’t immediately begin writing when I first read this book, after reading it time and again, I realized that there simply weren’t enough books like Iggy Peck, Architect. Why were there so few advanced rhyming picture books? Was I just not finding them?

After I began trying to write them, I realized that one of the stumbling blocks is that it is, in fact, hard to write rhyme well. Over time I began noticing more good to great advanced rhyme from the likes of Corey Rosen Schwartz, Lori Degman, and others, but I still think books as good as this are rare. I can’t tell you how glad I am to have Rosie Revere, Engineer and now a 3rd Beaty/Roberts creation coming soon in Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau.


2. The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, written by R.A. Spratt and illustrated by Dan Santat

Why this book? Humor for the entire family. And it was my introduction to Dan Santat’s illustrations.

The Adventures of Nanny Piggins

A few Thanksgivings ago, a wonderful singing librarian recommended this book to me to read to my many many children. The character of Nanny Piggins is utterly ridiculous and perfectly hilarious. I read this book out loud not only to the all the children in my family, but also Mama Funk, who happened to be within earshot at first, but stayed within earshot for the entirety. Children of all ages, from 2-89 will enjoy this book (I haven’t read it to anyone over 89, so I can’t say for sure, but it’s likely they would enjoy it, too).

Spratt has 2 sequels released in the states, although last I checked there were about 8 or 9 released in Australia (and the last time I checked was a while ago). Keep buying these, Americans, so Little, Brown will keep selling them here.

And although it’s only 1 picture per chapter, Santat’s illustrations are an impeccable fit. After I read this, I started seeing his illustrations everywhere. And for good reason. Santat’s talent is paramount.


3. Vunce Upon a Time, by J. Otto Seibold and Siobhan Vivian

Why this book? A Halloween story, a love story, a vegetarian vampire story, and candy.

Vunce Upon a Time

This book works on many levels, yet it pushes the limits of certain standards. There aren’t too many picture books about vampires, especially ones done well – possibly for good reason, the whole blood drinking thing isn’t totally age appropriate. But this book makes it work without a second thought. This book flipped vampires on their heads and made the vampire the scared character. While that isn’t a totally new tactic, it works particularly well with one of the fiercest and most menacing of all creatures in fiction. Everything about this book is completely unbelievable, in a totally believable way. Seeing my children (yes, the many many of them) react to this dark and scary scenery in such a comfortable way made me realize that kids’ books didn’t have to be all cozy and positive. And that’s really stuck with me.

To top it off, Dagmar is a great character, the illustrations are fabulous, and it has one wordless Where’s Waldo-type spread that’s a blast to stare at with the kidlings.


And since I’ve already written so many words, I’m gonna stop this post here and continue it at a later time, sharing 4 through 10 at that point. Toodle-oo.


Jump to Part 2

Jump to Part 3

Tips for Writing Picture Books: Keep Learning

It’s important to know ONE thing: You don’t know EVERYthing. So …

Keep Learning

I debated on whether to call this post Find the Right Critique Partners or Be the Worst … and Learn from People Better than You. I think there are a couple points I want to touch on regarding progression with your craft.

First, you don’t have to do it alone. The kidlit community, both online and in person, is full of friendly people who cheer each other on. Whether through SCBWI, PiBoIdMo, 12×12, or one of the many social networking groups, there is a profusion of resources available. You just have to ask.

Baby Hedgehog *

Find a critique group. This is critical. It sounds like a cheesy acknowledgements section of a middle grade novel, but the truth is that I’d be nowhere without the many critique partners who’ve made my writing better over the years.

But don’t be the best in your critique group. If you want to keep improving your writing, be sure to work with people who are better than you (by this, I mean better at writing). I can definitively say I have never been the best one in any of my groups – and that fact has played a large role in any success I may have had.

There are many other ways to continue learning. One is by going to conferences, retreats, and workshops. This can get expensive and potentially prohibitive, but luckily lots of classes have popped up online that range from very affordable webinars to even free (see Nerdy Chicks Write Summer School, currently in session).

Read books in the genre you write. This is important for several reasons. It will help keep your focus on the audience for which you’re writing. It will also give you an idea of the business side of the writing world. What are publishers buying? What are librarians, teachers, parents, and children enjoying?

How do you keep learning? Do you find it important to continue expanding your knowledge of kidlit? Why?

Next time I’ll share why it’s important to …

[fill in later before you post this, otherwise you might look kind of silly and you wouldn’t want that, would you, Josh?]

Wow, that sounds like an interesting topic! Betcha can’t wait to hear about that!


See all of Josh Funk’s 12-Step Guide to Writing Picture Books

Lesson #1: So, You Wrote a Book. Now What?
Lesson #2: Picture Books Are Short
Lesson #3: Every Word Counts
Lesson #4: The Illustrator Is Your Partner
Lesson #5: Show Don’t Tell
Lesson #6: Write with Active Emotion
Lesson #7: Story Arc Components
Lesson #8: Don’t Write In Rhyme
Lesson #9: Rhyming Is All About Rhythm
Lesson #10: Some Ideas Don’t Work
Lesson #11: Keep Learning
Lesson #12: Now You’re Ready! Dive In!

* You might be wondering why I inserted a picture of a baby hedgehog earlier in this post. If you are, then you’re not thinking hard enough.