I’m delighted to bring you another interview with one of the funniest picture book authors I know: Josh Funk. You may remember him from my last interview with him or you may have heard about him from somewhere else like his website. He has had 3 picture books published now (“Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast”, “Pirasaurs!”, and “Dear Dragon”) and it’s his third book release we are talking about today.
Me: “Dear Dragon” has gotten a lot of buzz lately as a story that addresses how to make friends despite our assumptions or prejudices. Was this something you had in mind while writing it? Did you anticipate that reaction?
Josh: Absolutely not. When I set out to write DEAR DRAGON, I mostly just thought it would be funny to see the characters misinterpret each other’s writing. I was more interested in the humor of it. Plus, I always liked epistolary format (THE GARDENER by Sarah Stewart & David Small is one of my all-time favorites).
But when the editor who acquired the book first spoke to me, she said that what drew her to the book wasn’t the letters, or the rhyme, or even the humor – it was the fact that two characters with completely different backgrounds became friends – through writing.
And many educators who’ve read the book have taken it to another level; they see a talking point about making character assumptions. I tend to think that it might actually work better because I didn’t intend to write the story with an overly didactic theme. If I had gone in with that goal, it probably wouldn’t have worked.
Me: You found a very clever way to incorporate rhyme in this story (no spoilers). Your other books are rhyming too. Do you prefer to write in rhyme?
Josh: I definitely enjoy the challenge of rhyming. I can talk at length about the difficulties of writing in rhyme, but to me it adds a layer of charm. But it can also make things more complicated. It’s important to remember that story comes first. And then the rhythm and rhyme. If you don’t have a good story to start with, there’s no point in writing the book.
Me: The illustrations by Rodolfo Montalvo are both endearing and funny. I love the compare/contrast set up in each spread. Was there any collaboration on them? Or was this yet another surprise to see the results after the book was published?
Josh: I always intended the story to be illustrated with two illustrations per letter; one from the perspective of the letter writer and the other from the perspective of the recipient.
There weren’t any illustration notes, but there also wasn’t any direct collaboration between me and Rodolfo. He and the art team at Viking designed the book and I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out.
And I agree. Rodolfo’s illustrations are gloriously perfect.
Me: What is one thing that surprised you in the writing of “Dear Dragon”?
Josh: Well, it was the first time I had to make an emotionally difficult cut to a manuscript. When I submitted the story, there were 12 letters – 6 each from George and Blaise. But due to the way they decided the art was going to be laid out, I needed to cut it down to 10.
It was pretty hard to cut some of my favorite scenes (and one visual joke I still hope to use some day). I really struggled with this for a good 24-48 hour period (which seems a little silly now). It all worked out great.
Me: In this technologically driven era, it seems odd to think about pen pals and letter writing (which is becoming a dying art). I love getting letters (or cards) in the mail, but it seems no one really does that any more. Have you ever had a pen pal? Did you ever wish to have one?
Josh: I have not ever had a pen pal. But I certainly wish I did. I think that’s one of the reasons I wrote this DEAR DRAGON – a regretful longing to have had a childhood pen pal.
Me: You have cute activity pages to go along with the book for parents or teachers. One lets the reader write a letter to Blaise (i.e., the dragon character). If you wrote a letter to Blaise, what would you say?
I’d love hang out some time. And if it’s not too much trouble, my son would love a ride on your back. Also, do you only have one outfit? Or were you just wearing the same shirt every day you received a letter from George?
Me: If you could have any real or imaginary person or creature as a pen pal (famous person, imaginary animal, historical figure, etc.), who would it be? What would you write to them?
Josh: Scuttle, from Disney’s Little Mermaid. I’d love to know more about where he comes up with his wild names for things – what an imagination! Plus, maybe if we become close, I could visit him at the beach some time. I’d love a vacation!
LOL! Great answer! Dinglehopper indeed. Scuttle and beaches are always a good thing in my world. And so are pen pals. Funny story: I had a penpal from 6th grade through high school. I would give her teddy bears for her birthdays and she would give me Garfields. She had a HUGE collection and so did I!
Readers, if you haven’t yet had a chance to check out this book, take the time to do so! You’re missing out! If you’re a teacher, there are also some great handouts on Josh’s website to go along with it.