Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Author Josh Funk Talks Mentor Texts

By Kirsti Call

I first met Josh when he joined my on-line critique group 3 years ago.  His stories are playful, witty and fun for everyone to read. He's a great author to discuss mentor texts with!  And this month Josh celebrates the release of his newest book, Pirasaurs! 

Do you utilize picture books as mentor texts?  If so, how? 

​I read a lot of picture books. Whenever I go to the library, I grab every picture book in the 'new' section that I haven't read. Sometimes I'll spend an hour at a book store reading all the face out books (or anything with an interesting spine). Every once in a while, I'll walk up and down the stacks and pick a book or two at random with my eyes closed (take that, 'judge a book by it's cover' cliche!).

However, I don't consciously use any books specifically as mentor texts. It's more the accumulation of all the books I read that inform my writing.

How has reading picture books helped you discover who you are as a writer?  

Sometimes I read picture books with my children. Other times I read them alone. I'll often come across a book I like a lot and I'll read it with everyone in my family (including my cats) to see what they think. Sometimes I find a book I really don't like and also ask my whole family to read it to see if I'm crazy and wrong (the answers are usually and sometimes, respectively). In that case, I try to understand what it is that didn't click for me - and I'll try to avoid writing stories with those features.

Every once in a while I'll find a book I *love* so much that I have to share it with everyone. Immediately. I'll interrupt whatever you're doing to share it with you (this becomes a problem when people are using bathrooms).

This happened three times last year with ONE DAY, THE END by Rebecca Kai-Dotlich and illustrated by Fred Koehler, UNDER A PIG TREE by Margie Palatini and illustrated by Chuck Groenink, and BOATS FOR PAPA by Jessixa Bagley. In all three cases, I don't think I've gone and written any stories emulating those three styles, but they've all helped develop my attitude as a writer.

Were there any particular mentor texts that inspired you in the creation of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, Pir​asaurs!​, and Dear Dragon (or any other upcoming books)?

Of course, there's IGGY PECK, ARCHITECT by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts - a fabulously illustrated and gloriously clever rhyming picture book. It showed me that I could use advanced language in a book for children - like trestle, clods, Romanesque. That certainly encouraged me to get words like rappelled, legumes, and slathered into LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST.

Another all-time favorite picture book of mine is THE GARDENER by Sarah Stewart and illustrated by David Small. I don't think I consciously thought about the fact that one of my favorites was written in epistolary format as I drafted DEAR DRAGON (which is also written in letter form), but it wouldn't surprise me if it played a part.

And while the final version of PIRASAURS! is very different, early drafts had more of a concept-driven feel in the vein of SHARK VS. TRAIN by Chris Barton and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld.​

What do you feel is the BEST way for picture book writers to utilize mentor texts?

Mentor texts come in very handy when I'm feeling stuck. When I've drafted a story and sent it through critique groups, but something isn't quite clicking - that's when I search for mentor texts. Often times critique partners mention comparable titles when giving feedback. If someone says 'this story feels a bit like HAMPIRE! - I'll go find that book and see how Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen made that story work.​ Or maybe someone says it reminds them of SEAVER THE WEAVER and I realize that it's a little too close to Paul Czajak's text - so I need to change the direction up a bit.

And sometimes I find a book that I love so much that I wish I thought of the idea. It doesn't mean that I'll necessarily go out and try to write a story just like it. But every picture book I read informs and inspires the next manuscript I write.   

Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books - such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin), LP&SFT: THE CASE OF THE STINKY STENCH (Sterling, 2017), IT'S NOT JACK AND THE BEANSTALK (Two Lions, 2017), and more.
Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences.
Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts.

Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

Find out more information about Josh at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter at @joshfunkbooks.


  1. Such an interesting and diverse group of mentor texts! Thank you, Kirsti & Josh.

  2. Hi, Josh! Thanks for sharing some of your favorite PBs.

  3. Hi, Josh! I find it so helpful when authors share what PB have helped them or given enjoyment. It's so nice to read those suggestions. Thank you! Great post!

  4. I am glad that someone else reads to pets as well as human family members, whew! Just last night, my African Grey walked away from me at bedtime story time and said, "You read it, mama." My husband suggested that although he has had a favorite for a while, perhaps a new read is needed ;)

  5. Just ordered some of your favorites that I hadn't yet read from my library. Keep your fabulous books coming! Great interview. Thanks to you both, Kirsti and Josh!

  6. Thank you, Josh and Kirsti, for this informative interview. Love your books, Josh, and appreciate you sharing some favs with us :)

  7. Interesting interview. It seems that regardless of whether an author uses picture books consciously as mentor texts, just reading them has an influence. Thanks for this.