September 9, 2019

Birth Stories for Books: HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER (and other books) by Josh Funk

I'm thrilled to bring you another Birth Stories for Books interview. This week's guest is Josh Funk, award-winning author of many excellent books for children. Today we'll be focusing on his path to publication for his forthcoming book, HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER (illustrated by Sara Palacios, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2019). Buckle up. Let's Go!

Dawn Prochovnic: Thank you for stopping by to talk with us, Josh. It’s been exciting to watch your career take off. You’ve been a vocal advocate for others in the industry, including those with marginalized voices. I’ve appreciated how you shine a light others’ books, especially your  #womeninillustration posts on Twitter. It is privilege to have an opportunity to shine a light on YOUR work. 

Josh Funk: Thank you. I feel that if you’re not actively advocating for change and standing up as an ally, then you might as well be fighting for the status quo.

DP: Again, thank you. I couldn't agree more. 

Your latest book, HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER, comes out this month. Can you tell us a little bit about your path to publication for this particular story? For example, I’d love to hear about the process and timeframe between your initial idea for this story and the story that was formulated fully enough to submit to an editor.

JF: HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER is the second book in the “How to Code with Pearl and Pascal” series, following HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE. But interestingly enough, I wrote the guts of ROLLERCOASTER first.

For a while I was trying to figure out how to combine my day job as a software engineer with my picture book writing and it took several different drafts of completely different story attempts before I finally landed on the “How to” aspect and put it together with building/coding a sandcastle. One of those previous attempts was about a big sister and her little brother that went to a fair and saw everything through a lens of coding. In addition to coding, it was a sibling story about the little brother ruining the big sister’s day. My critique partners found it too confusing, especially the stuff about variables, which it focused on in addition to sequences, loops, and if-then-else’s (conditionals).

But it turns out variables are still one of the earlier topics one would teach in regards to coding (after sequences, loops, and conditionals, in fact), and once I had the somewhat simpler structure of HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE down, it wasn’t hard to replace the brother with Pascal the robot and fit Pearl in as the big sister and refocus and rebrand the story as HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER (with lots of other major revisions, of course).

DP: I love your SANDCASTLE story, and I found it to be an excellent example of how picture books can be a great place to start (even as an adult!) when you're trying to learn something new. I think it's so exciting that more and more kids will develop a baseline understanding of some key elements of coding because of your books. Yay you!

When you compare one of your earliest drafts of this story to the version in the published book, is there anything else that stands out for you in terms of what is most different? Likewise, is there anything in particular that stands out that was included in your earliest drafts and survived the revision process?

JF: Obviously switching out the little brother for a robot is a pretty big change. But the ending and conflict were always the same. The main characters really wanted to ride the Python Coaster. For me, it’s important to have a clearly defined conflict/goal for the characters to try and reach - and then I throw obstacles in the way as I go.

DP: That's why your books are so much fun to read! 

Reflecting on the journey from idea to published book, is there any one moment along the way that you credit with opening the door for this particular story to find its way to publication?

JF: Probably the nerdy pun of the original title: Hello World’s Fair. Hello World is generally considered the simplest output program one can create - where the words “Hello, World!” are printed to the screen. So combining World’s Fair with Hello World is really what kicked this story off the ground in the first place.

DP: I LOVE this backstory. Thanks for that little morsel! 

You've mentioned the SANDCASTLE book that is the first in this series. When you look back on the publication journey for the earlier book as compared to this latest one, what are some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

JF: Well, the journey to publications is really the same - as in both books share the journey. I was fortunate to be offered a two-book deal when I sold HOW TO CODE A SANDCASTLE, where the second book was to also be about coding. And while I didn’t write HOW TO CODE A ROLLERCOASTER until afterward, the journey for both was one and the same.

DP: What about your first published book as compared to this latest book? Were there some of the key similarities and differences in terms of the publication journeys for each?

JF: They couldn’t be more different. My first published book (LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST) was a slush pile submission to Sterling Children’s. Soon after I signed with my agent, and along with her help, we submitted the “How to Code with Pearl and Pascal” series to Penguin.

Additionally, this was not the first time I worked with Penguin and the acquiring editor (Leila Sales, who is no longer with Penguin). I’ve enjoyed working with all of my editors, but in this case, it was not the first time working with Leila so there was a level of comfort that wasn’t there with my debut book.

DP: I'll bet Leila was great to work with. I heard her present at a SCBWI conference in Oregon, and she was full of great tips--and had an excellent sense of humor! 

One of my favorite parts of being an author is connecting with young readers at schools, libraries, and bookstore visits, and I’m always looking for new pro tips. You maintain a very active schedule of book-related events. What advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/presenters in terms of planning successful events? 

JF: My most important piece of advice is to do what you like. If you love school visits, then do lots. If you don’t enjoy book festivals, then don’t apply to them. If you’d prefer to take part in a bookstore panel event as opposed to a solo storytime and signing, then stick to you preferences. If you enjoy what you do, it’ll show. And if you don’t enjoy what you do, it’ll also show. So don’t do those things.

DP: That's excellent advice--and liberating! Likewise, it seems that you maintain a very active presence on social media. How do you balance the time this requires with the time needed to write new books? 

JF: Social media ebbs and flows. Sometimes I go on once a day. Other times I’m on a lot. The whole “do what you enjoy” thing also applies to social media. But I generally like people, I’m a social dragonfly, so getting out there (in person or digitally) is fun for me.

DP: You have great resources for writers on your blog, including your excellent guide to writing picture books. I suspect developing and maintaining this sort of resource takes time away from the primary work of writing your own picture books, but I also suspect there are many positives for sharing what you’ve learned with others. Can you share some of the most positive (and not-so-positive) aspects of the “extras” you’ve created and maintain for others? Based on your experiences, what advice or suggestions do you have for fellow author/illustrators who have an interest in setting up and maintaining some type of a web-based, “extra” for others?  

JF: I wrote those resources as a series of blog posts in 2014-2015 prior to the release of my first book. I was at the point where I knew I had a book coming out, but I, like many others, thought, “What do I have to share on social media? Who is going to care what I ate for lunch or a random deep thought I have?”

So I started putting together blog posts containing things I had learned about writing for children in my years leading up to publication. And voila - I had something to share!

A year or two later, I took those blog posts, rearranged them, and placed them on my website’s “Resources for Writers” section. I’ll note that they come in very handy when I get a message from my old college roommate who says his wife’s cousin’s dogsitter has an idea for a picture book and they want me to help them get it published. I just paste the link and say, start there.

I wouldn’t say that I update the resources all that often. While the industry is constantly evolving, most of the information I put up there is pretty basic and high level with links to other external sites and resources.

As far as other authors interested in setting up extras, I would certainly love to read everyone else’s advice. My resources are only one person’s perspective. I would love to learn from all other authors if they post their own tips and best practices!

DP: I love reading others' tips, too...and thanks for the suggestion of where to send my husband's cousin's dogsitter the next time he asks...

You also publish a newsletter, which I’m sure also takes a fair amount of time to keep up with. For those of us who might be pondering if it’s worthwhile to do some type of a newsletter, what are the pluses and minuses of this type of reader outreach, from your perspective? 

JF: I’m not totally sure it’s worth it. But you never know what’s gonna help connect with your readers. My uncle, who isn’t on social media, responds to my newsletter every time I send one out (about 4-6 times a year). And that’s really the only way he hears updates about my books. I think if you’re connecting directly with your readers (YA and above), a newsletter is critical. For picture books, it’s less so.

DP: I appreciate the perspective. Thanks! 

Here's another question: If you could go back in time, what would you tell your pre-published self? Or, said another way, what do you know now, that you wished you would have known a bit earlier?

JF: Keep writing new things. Don’t get hung up on that first story and revise it over and over and over again without writing something new. You will learn so much from the process of getting that first story critiqued, and revising, and taking workshops and classes, and so on, that your second story will start off in a much better place. And your third story will likely be even better. So keep writing new things.

DP: Yes! Yes! Yes! That is such excellent advice! 

Before we wrap up, do you have anything you’d like to tell us about what you’re currently working on, Josh? 

JF: I’m hard at work on the fourth LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST book, which will be called SHORT & SWEET and will be out in the fall of 2020.

DP: That's such a fun series--and what a great, new title! I'll look forward to reading it. 

You have been so generous with your time, Josh. Thank you so much for sharing your Birth Story for Books with us!

JF: Thank you for inviting me to chat.


Photo Credit: Carter Hasegawa, 2017
Josh Funk writes silly stories such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series, the How to Code with Pearl and Pascal series, the It's Not a Fairy Tale series, the A Story of Patience & Fortitude series in conjunction with the New York Public Library, Dear Dragon, Albie Newton, Pirasaurs!, A Night at the Bookstore: A Barnsie & Noble Adventure, and more coming soon!

Since the fall of 2015, Josh has visited (or virtually visited) over 400 schools, classrooms, and libraries and he is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA.

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 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 __________.

For more information about Josh Funk, visit him at and on Twitter at @joshfunkbooks.

Birth Stories for Books is an occasional feature of Dawn Babb Prochovnic's blog. Dawn is the author of multiple picture books including Where Does a Cowgirl Go Potty?, Where Does a Pirate Go Potty? (forthcoming, 2019), and 16 books in the Story Time With Signs & Rhymes series. Dawn is a contributing author to Oregon Reads Aloud and a frequent presenter at schools, libraries, and educational conferences. Contact Dawn using the form at the left, or learn more at

No comments:

Post a Comment