Today I get to share not one, but TWO amazing picture books written by Josh Funk. They both had a book birthday on the SAME day. Can you believe it?
Josh Funk has visited my blog numerous times before. He has become quite a prolific picture book writer producing such stories as the “Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast” series, the “How to Code” series, and many more. You can learn more about him at his website.
“Where is Our Library?” is a sequel with those glorious New York Library lions and it’s a brilliant second take on their quest for a good book (a perfect sequel!). This time, the children’s section of the library has moved and the two lion statues (Patience and Fortitude) cannot find it. They roam all over New York on the hunt for it and there are some wonderful inclusions for New York lovers everywhere.
“It’s NOT Little Red Riding Hood” is the third book in the “It’s NOT” fairy tale series. We’ve already had fun with Jack & the Beanstalk, and Hansel & Gretel. This time all of the tropes get blown out of the water with Little Red. Point in case (spoiler alert), she only wears her red cape for a split second. There are TONS of hijinks in store and I will try very hard not to spoil any of the rest. I love this series so much, especially because it can make me laugh when it’s least expected. SO many hilarious twists and turns!
Welcome back Josh!
Me: “Where is Our Library?” was a very unexpected sequel. Were you commissioned to write this story? If yes, how on earth did you come up with a plot for a library that has moved?
Josh: Interestingly enough, the idea for this story came from the fact that the library IS actually moving across the street (well, the children’s room is moving). I only found out about this because the library added a line to the backmatter of LOST IN THE LIBRARY (which came out in 2018) stating: “As of 2020, the children’s library will be located at the newly renovated Mid-Manhattan Library across Fifth Avenue…”
I was sort of devastated, because the plot of LOST IN THE LIBRARY (which was proposed by Macmillan editors and the NYPL staff) had Fortitude find Patience IN the children’s room. Of course, I quickly (six months later) realized that this move could be the conflict of the sequel.
So this time, I proposed the idea to Macmillan and the NYPL and they agreed that we definitely should make this book.
Me: I absolutely love the tour of New York AND children’s literature all tucked away in its pages. Did you plan some of the story titles in Times Square or in any of the libraries that were visited? Or was that all on illustrator Stevie Lewis?
Josh: Stevie’s illustrations are perfect! I’m so thrilled she agreed to illustrate the sequel.
When planning the lions’ route through Manhattan, I tried to find as many kidlit locales to share. Originally I wanted to have loads of cameos by famous children’s book characters (such as Harriet the Spy, Lyle Lyle Crocodile, etc), but due to copyright reasons, the Macmillan legal team believed that while referencing something in text is okay, or even referencing a specific picture of a book cover is okay, copying someone’s art (such as drawing a crocodile in a bathtub in the window of a building) is not okay.
But we found lots of ways to work references in. All of the Broadway shows are either based on children’s books, or involve lions and cats, or both. And all of the books pictured in the various libraries that Patience and Fortitude visit, such as The Curious Garden, Henry and the Kite Dragon, and many others, take place in Manhattan (and are listed in the back matter of the book).
Me: Inquiring minds need to know: is there an answer for the mad hatter’s riddle? WHY is a raven akin to a desk?
Josh: So that’s a line (almost) straight from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. (the line is “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” – but I changed it to fit the rhythm).
As far as the answers, I believe Carroll intended it to not have an answer, but google says he eventually did answer it (I’ll let you follow that research trail yourself and decide if you believe it, though).
Me: Ohhh! I will definitely have to Google that. In your “It’s NOT fairy tale series,” the illustrations by Edwardian Taylor are pitch perfect. I love all of the details he includes in the background with characters from other stories. In fact, I’ve seen some characters wandering from story to story. Was the hint of Red Riding hood at the end of “It’s NOT Hansel and Gretel” your idea? Were there any illustration surprises with this story that you just loved?
Josh: Putting Little Red and Little Blue at the end of IT’S NOT HANSEL AND GRETEL was my idea (leaving breadcrumbs for the follow up, if you will).
But the rest of the background cameos from other fairy tales and fables is all Eddie. He is HILARIOUS! My two favorite additions he made are the EXTREMELY ugly duckling (he’s just so nerdy!) and The Beatles beetles (which are not fairy tale related, but a spin on one of the jokes in the text). When Little Blue finds out Little Red has to leave, she says, “But you said we’d play rolling stones with the beetles!” to which Red responds with, “Sorry, Sis. We can toss rocks down Insect Hill another time.”
And The Beatles beetles show up throughout the story – in the jukebox, on the endpapers, and probably other places I haven’t found yet. Every time I open the book, I see new things I didn’t previously.
Me: LOL! That’s awesome! I’m going to have to re-read the story now and scan for them! Both stories are an excellent dip into the fantastical: lion statues come to life and fairy tales gone amuck. Your stories thrive on these elements. Are there any rules you embrace when writing fantasy? How do you help keep your fantastical stories on track?
Josh: That’s an interesting question – because there have to be rules, right? (at least that’s what critique partners and editors always tell me) Pretty much all of my books have a fantasy element to them to some degree.
I think each world has their own rules. For example, in the lions’ world, they don’t interact with people – just with inanimate objects (other statues, paintings, a kite dragon) – but people do exist. In the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, there’s also no interaction with people – but that’s because in their world, people don’t exist.
In the Fairy Tale world, I think the rule is that all bets are off – and pretty much anything can happen. Do I want to add a unicorn to Hansel and Gretel? Why not?
I’m not sure that really answers the question. A truly experienced world-building writer could probably explain it better that I am.
Me: Actually, I love that answer. Who needs rules? What surprised you in writing either sequel that you hadn’t encountered in your writing before?
Josh: I think when writing sequels, it’s important to figure out what makes the book different from its predecessor(s). For WHERE IS OUR LIBRARY?, the difference is that Patience and Fortitude are traveling to a new setting (outside of the library instead of inside). For IT’S NOT LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD, the main character is more amenable (even though she questions the narrator) to the storyteller’s suggestions than either Jack or Gretel were in the previous two books.
I’m not sure that was a surprise, but when writing each of the sequels, it was what I honed in on as I drafted them.
Me: If these stories were combined (Hans Christian Anderson does make an appearance with the lions after all), what fairy tale would you envision taking place in New York (possibly in the woods of Central Park)?
Josh: Both the obvious answer, and the best one is, is The Ugly Duckling. The ugly duckling actually does appear in both books. But this ugly duckling would definitely be more urban, and probably more hipster, than an ugly duckling we’ve seen before. This ugly duckling doesn’t want to be a beautiful swan – it sees the benefits of being a giant nerd in a mega-metropolis.
Wow! You’ve got my wheels spinning on this one – I might have to start a new draft of something right now!
Hahahaha! I was totally hoping you’d say that! I also saw that Ugly Duckling in the background of the “It’s NOT” fairy tale books and wanted him to have a story of his own! And I love this idea. I really hope you do write it!
Dear readers, if you haven’t had a chance yet to track down either of these books, I highly recommend both. They are brilliant examples of sequels, as well as how to push the envelope when you are the creator of those same boundaries!