Excited young children bounce between the colored plastic chairs in The Concord Bookshop as they eagerly wait for author Josh Funk. The September 10th event launches his new picture book, Dear Dragon: A Pen Pal Tale.
One of The Concord Bookshop owners, Dawn Rennert, stands in front of the crowd and proudly introduces the local author. “Dear Dragon received a star review in Kirkus,” she says. With a smile, Rennert adds, “And it’s just plain fun!”
Funk greets the guests and starts off the reading with his first picture book, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast–“As an appetizer,” he says, grinning. His friendly rapport with the audience and humorous personality is clearly evident in the silly characters and situations on the pages in his hands. The author then reads Dear Dragon, his third picture book, which debuted only days after the August 30, 2016 release, Pirasaurs!. “It’s been a good start to the fall,” he jokes about having two books out in just a week’s span.
Primarily a software engineer, Funk initially became interested in writing children’s picture books when his own children were young. Reading books to them took precedence over his fantasy football hobby. After he took adult education classes on children’s writing taught by author Jane Sutton, he found his niche in picture books. “I thought it was easier,” he says, noting the 500-word manuscripts as opposed to longer books for older readers. All three of his books are cleverly-written in rhyme and embody lighthearted, fun stories for young readers.
Funk was inspired to write Dear Dragon after his then three-year-old son blurted out, “I want to be pen pals with a dragon!” Funk’s wife had just finished describing the pen pal program that she was involved in with her middle school students. “I’m always on the lookout for ideas,” he says. “So that’s kind of how it started—a boy and a dragon are pen pals.”
The book’s two characters, a human boy and a young dragon misinterpret each other’s identity when reading each other’s letters. What started out as, how Funk puts it, “a silly book about a dragon,” became an addition to classroom lessons about making character assumptions and learning to see past differences, culminating in the story when the two characters meet face-to-face.
Though Funk is still getting used to considering himself a children’s author, he’s already had many great experiences that makes his new identity feel as real as the published book in his hand. “I get to meet and talk to a lot of cool people,” he says. From bookstore events and writer’s conferences, one of his highlights is meeting his fans. “Every step of the way has been more exciting than the last,” he says. “It’s pretty cool to have my name on the shelf — but ultimately it’s more about the readers,” he adds. Luckily for the readers, Funk has two more books slated for 2017 releases, including Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast: Case of the Stinky Stench, a sequel to his first book, and an interactive character-to-reader story called It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk.
Back in the Bookshop, Funk clearly reads with confidence and playfulness that connects not only to the children in the group, but also to the adults. After the book closes, audience members eagerly line up for Funk’s signature on their pristine copy of Dear Dragon. While some settle in to reread the story again or venture next door to try Haute Coffee’s dragon-decorated latte and cookie with their new book in tow, the story will surely connect with readers everywhere—humans and dragons alike.
© Chelsea E. Dill 2016