My Guest Post on MuggleNet [My Marriage with Harry Potter…]

Funk Wedding Cake

I had the fortunate pleasure of writing a guest posting on MuggleNet.com, The #1 Harry Potter Site. I’m also giving away a signed copy of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast at the end of the guest post. See the excerpt below:

My Marriage with Harry Potter… and Getting Pancakes Published

It’s not what you think. My wife’s name isn’t Harry Potter. Her name is Mrs. Funk. But Harrywas there when we fell in love. And Ron was there when I proposed. And Hermione was at our wedding.

Let me backup. I started reading Harry Potter in 2000 when Goblet of Fire came out. When I started dating the future Mrs. Funk in 2002, she hadn’t yet read Harry Potter, so we read them out loud to each other. I remember one particularly late night when we stayed up reading the last 120 pages of Prisoner of Azkaban until sunrise (because once you hit “Professor Trelawny’s Prediction,” there is absolutely no good stopping point)….

Click here to see the rest of the post on MuggleNet.com.

#pb10for10 #TeamRhyme

Educators Cathy Mere & Mandy Robek have been running the #pb10for10 event for years now. Basically, pick 10 picture books you simply can’t live without and share today, August 10th, with the hashtag #pb10for10 (see the official rules here).

pb 10 for 10 015

It’s hard to pick just 10, so to help narrow my field I’m going to stick to my favorite rhyming picture books.

 

Iggy Peck, Architect

written by Andrea Beaty & illustrated by David Roberts

I’ve said it over and over and over again, but this is one of four books that inspired me to become a writer. Advanced rhyming at its best.

Iggy Peck Architect

 

Snoozefest

written by Samantha Berger & illustrated by Kristyna Litten

Woodstock for the sleepy. And starring a sloth.

Snoozefest book by Samatha Berger & Krystyna Litten

 

If I Built a House

written & illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

I could have gone with Circus Ship or any one of Van Dusen’s other rhymers, but I just love the wackiness of this one.

If I Built a House by Chris Van Dusen

 

Orangutangled

written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen & illustrated by Aaron Zenz

Sudsy is one of the best rhymers out there, and all her books are great, but this one continues to entertain me and the kids every time we read it.

orangutangled

 

The Library

written by Sarah Stewart & illustrated by David Small

This and The Gardener (which doesn’t rhyme) are two of my favorites ever.

the library by sarah stewart and david small

 

Three Ninja Pigs

written by Corey Rosen-Schwartz & illustrated by Dan Santat

Be on the lookout for a third in this series coming in 2016!

three ninja pigs

 

1 Zany Zoo

written by Lori Degman & illustrated by Colin Jack

The award winning debut from a stellar rhymer!

1 zany zoo

 

Chuckling Ducklings

written & illustrated by Aaron Zenz

He illustrated Orangutangled (above), but he is also an expert at dishing out rhyming text. This series (including Hug a Bull & I Love Ewe) are AWESOME gifts for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or to a newborn baby!

chuckling ducklings by aaron zenz

 

Monster Needs Your Vote

written by Paul Czajak & illustrated by Wendy Grieb

I know it’s not out until August 25th (in 15 days!!!), but I’m a big fan of the Monster & Me series, and this is the first one being published that I helped critique.

monster needs your vote

 

Guess Again!

written by Mac Barnett & illustrated by Adam Rex

Technically, this isn’t quite rhyming, but if you’ve read it, you’ll get it.

guess again

 

And those are my ten for #pb10for10!

My publicist would behead me if I didn’t mention that my debut picture book Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast (illustrated by Brendan Kearney, out on September 1st) also rhymes.

Lady Pancake Cover Image (2)

 

That is all. Make sure to check out all the other #pb10for10’s linked up!

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

Happy Birthday to You

As it is the holiday and gift giving season, I’d like to step back for a second and do something different. I’d like to wish you a happy birthday. That’s right, happy birthday to the nearly 10% of this planet’s population born between Black Friday and Christmas. Whether you celebrate Kwanzaa, Festivus, Hanukkah, Saturnalia, the Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Christmas, or something else, you undoubtedly get the short end of the stick when it comes to birthday presents.

My present to you is this post.


Maybe next year I’ll get you a puppy (but probably not).

Tree of Thanks

I’ve had a lot of good luck lately. But I’ve also had a lot of help. I’d like to take this blogortunity to thank those who have had a direct effect in helping me get to wherever I am today.

This Is Not My Family
This is not actually my family

In chronological order, I begin by thanking my many many children, without whom I would probably never have had any interest in writing books for children. Once I began, however, the spouse formerly known as Mama Funk (my wife) encouraged me to write. She discovered a community education class taught locally by a children’s author and strongly encouraged me to join (perhaps she needed a night off from me every two weeks). I signed up for the class …

Jane Sutton’s newest book

Jane Sutton, along with a healthy following students (some of whom were taking her class for the fourth consecutive session) taught me the basics (and the advanced) of writing for children. The critiques from my classmates were both encouraging and enlightening. I learned that I might have potential. I also learned that I still had a lot to learn. One particular student, Ellen Cohen (who does not have a link here because she does not have a blog – START A BLOG, ELLEN), encouraged me to join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and attend our region’s annual conference. I signed up for the conference …

NESCBWI 2012 Logo

At the 2012 New England SCBWI Conference I met dozens of friendly people. I gained knowledge from the sessions and speakers (Kate Messner’s recap of her TED talk was unforgettable). But nothing was more influential than a short conversation at Friday evening’s wine and cheese gathering with LorettaJo Kapinos and Sera Rivers. In short, they told me that volunteering at the conference was great fun and a terrific way to meet people. If I remember correctly, their volunteer duties included acting as bodyguard for a guy who wrote picture books about bats. And that’s how they got their fancy yellow badges (whereas mine was boring white). They had me at yellow badges. In 2013, I signed up to volunteer …

Bats at the Library by Brian Lies
You could be Brian Lies’ bodyguard, too!

Prior to the 2013 NESCBWI Conference, I was asked to select volunteering duties. Among other duties (door watcher, sign-in checker), I chose Open Mic (I was probably going to perform, anyway).  Alicia Gregoire, the host of the event introduced me to a whole bunch of writers who had recently started a writing community called The Writers’ Loft (I recently learned that these writers were not expecting a nerdy white dude when they heard Papa J Funk would be stopping by, but that’s neither here nor there). After the conference, I began frequenting The Writers’ Loft …

NESCBWI 2013 Logo

The Writers’ Loft is a magical place where writers’ dreams come true. The Loft plays host to critique groups, craft chats, author panels, book launches, write-ins, think tanks – basically a year-long SCBWI conference at whatever pace you (the writer) want. For me, The Writers’ Loft is the people (“it’s the people, people!”) – many of whom have helped me edit manuscripts, brainstorm ideas, and teach me the ins and outs of writing for kids (and writing in general). Although I might have gotten here (wherever here is) eventually, I want to thank three particular Lofters (Heather KellyAnna Staniszewski, and Kris Asselin) who have guided me and made my life far easier than it would have been without their help and support.

The Writers' Loft

And of course I must thank all my critique partners and groups (Cousin Rachel, Deb O’Brien, Jane’s Class, my online group, and The Writers’ Loft PBCG). Without all of you, I wouldn’t be the unpublished (but represented!) writer I am today.

Thank You

And if I didn’t thank you (yes, you – the one reading this blog post), then I thank you, too.