It’s another Simply 7 with Josh Funk! Trust me, you won’t want to miss this one.
Josh Funk has visited my blog NUMEROUS times (I think this is his 9th visit!). He has written many of my favorite funny picture books and series (such 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.
MY PET FEET is one of his newest stand alone picture books and it may be one of his best ones yet! It is funny word play at its finest. In this story, a young girl wakes up to discover that the letter R has gone missing. This causes all sorts of hijinks starting with her pet ferret which becomes pet feet. It changes all sorts of things around the town (and the pictures of some of the changes are wonderfully hilarious). The silly search for a solution reaches peak crisis before the solution is found. The illustrations by Billy Yong are perfectly paired with the text to show the chaos and the humor. This is a book you won’t want to miss!
Welcome back Josh.
Me: Almost every book you’ve written has had an element of fantasy in it, so MY PET FEET feels like it fits right into your bookshelf. In the past though you’ve said you like to write in different genres. What genre do you think this hilarious escapade fits into?
Josh: Well, of course MY PET FEET has elements of fantasy (as all my books do). There’s a little bit of mystery to it as well, but that’s not really the point of the book (as the solution is less important than experiencing the problem). It could also fit into the category of pet books, if you want to look at it like that. Some have said that it’s an alphabet-related book (although it’s definitely not an ABC Book).
For me, though, this fits into the category of word-nerd books (or as logophiles would call them, logophile books). For all those Scrabble and Boggle (or Words with Friends and Wordle)-loving folks out there who enjoy being clever with words–this book is for you.
Me: 100% true! I understand that the idea for this book came from a texting typo. But please tell us, what on earth did your first draft look like? Was there a full-blown story there? How hard was it to write without using a single word with an R in it?
Josh: Writing MY PET FEET was like piecing together a puzzle. Even before my first draft, I started making lists of words such that when an R was removed, it became another word. But not just any word–it had to be the same type of speech so that it would work in a sentence. A frog and toad became a fog and toad. A scuttling crab became a scuttling cab. A go-cart became a go-cat.
After coming up with a list of words, I still needed a plot which would require a character to need to fix this missing R situation. And I eventually landed on saving a transformed pet (I had a few to choose from–crab, horse–but ferret was the best). Once I figured that out, I slowly crafted scene after scene with all the silly illustratable words missing R’s until I had a complete first draft.
While it was certainly a challenge writing the book this way, it was a fun challenge. I made great use of scrabble word finding websites putting in words with combinations of R’s. And I always have a thesaurus handy–so if I ever wrote a word with an R, I could quickly swap it or rearrange the sentence to not use an R.
Me: Wow! That’s a lot of work. NO spoilers given, but when I read the story, I felt like the solution was obvious (in that way that it made perfect sense but I totally didn’t see it coming). I loved it! Did you know the solution from the first draft of the story? Were there alternate endings before that one?
Josh: The culprit never changed from that very first draft. And yes, it seems obvious, but it was almost so obvious it would have been wrong not to use it.
At one point, the main character thought that a frog stole all of the letter R’s because frogs say ‘Ribbit’ which has R’s, but it was actually a red herring because she had been chasing a toad, not a frog. And if that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone, as I could never really articulate that scene to my editor, so it was removed (and instead we added another emotional beat, which I think is really key to the story–editors really are smart and make my books so much better!).
Me: This book is a stand alone story, not a sequel or part of a series (though I certainly HOPE it gets a sequel!). It’s quite clever and unique, as well as funny. What surprised you in the writing of it?
Josh: I think what surprised me most about writing this is I knew I was onto something once I had that first draft. And the people who get my writing really loved it right away. My agent never wrote back so fast and we quickly sent it on sub. And the acquiring editor totally got it, too–even so much as to make sure that despite being published by Simon & Schuster, they covered up the R in Schuster on the spine of the book.
Me: Ha! I love that! You have had the most incredible illustrators for your books. I absolutely love all the details on every page that illustrator Billy Yong included. Were there any illustration surprises with this story that you just loved? What was your favorite illustration?
Josh: Yes, I have been incredibly fortunate regarding the illustrators with whom I’ve been paired–they’re all astonishingly talented–and Billy is no exception.
The biggest surprise is what the pet feet looked like. I have no idea how Billy took such an absurd concept and somehow made it … cute. Like adorably cute. If I lived in a magical world where we could create our own animal companions from our imaginations, I’d want to have pet feet as illustrated by Billy Yong.
As far as my favorite, I love the giant poop emoji doo(r) to the town hall and g(r)assy field. I had no idea Billy was going to illustrate it with a bunch of butts farting, but I totally approve.
Me: LOL! Those were great bits and I agree that those feet were adorable! I love that the words missing the Rs have been changed to a different color in the text (purple when missing and–spoiler alert–green when they return). Was that something you came up with? Or was that a design decision? What other design decisions were made for this unique book?
Josh: As the art was coming in, I wanted to make sure it was as easy as possible for readers to identify which words were the ones missing the R’s, so pretty early on I suggested that we make the words missing R’s a different color. I think this will help emerging readers, but also adult readers to make sure they say the wrong intended word (as opposed to correct unintended word). You’re used to saying, “frog and toad” and might read it that way, but since “fog” is in purple, hopefully you’ll catch yourself.
And when the R’s return, I selfishly wanted to make sure everyone knew how clever the book was and how often R’s are used in normal speech (there are over 300 R’s in this interview alone). So very late in the process we experimented with making all of the R’s green, but that wasn’t quite enough, so we made all of the words with R’s green. And as you noted, look at that copyright page–about half of the words on that page are green!
(For what it’s worth, R is the most commonly used consonant according to the Oxford Concise English Dictionary–it’s in more root words than any other letter other than E and A)
Me: Great idea. I never thought of how that might impact read alouds. As of this year, you will have 18 picture books out in the world, so I’m going to go back to a question I asked you in your very first Simply 7 interview here on my blog. You said then that you didn’t have a writing process really, but only wrote when inspiration struck. Is that still true? Or have you developed a writing process now?
Josh: I love this question. Let me start answering this by going back to 2019–when I wrote MY PET FEET–and when the answer to this question was “yes, I still only write when inspiration strikes.” I started brainstorming words in late June of 2019, finished the first draft a month later, revised over the next week or two and sent it to my agent in early August–a six-week inspirational period.
But to answer this question now, I’d have to say, “yes, I still only write when inspiration strikes.” Sometimes I go weeks or months without writing much new stuff. And sometimes I’ll write several first drafts and revisions in a matter of weeks.
Maybe someday that’ll change. I hope you ask me again somewhere down the line.
Thanks so much for inviting me to chat about MY PET FEET!
Thank you so much for stopping by my blog again Josh.
Dear readers, this book just came out yesterday. If you’re already a fan of Josh’s work, you will LOVE this book. It’s hilarious with an emotional underpinning that is phenomenal. And the illustrations are simply fantastic. Don’t miss it!
In fact, there’s a blog tour where you can learn more about this book too. Be sure to check out the other spots on the tour: