"I have always imagined that Paradise will be some kind of library." ~ Jorge Luis Borges

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Wherein the author of Dear Dragon answers a few questions...

Welcome to the final stop of the 
Dear Dragon blog tour! 

DEAR DRAGON, written by Josh Funk and illustrated by Rodolfo Montalvo, is a new picture book about learning to look past external differences and love the person (or dragon!) underneath. George and Blaise are paired up by their teachers for a year-long pen pal and poetry project. Through letters back and forth about their families, hobbies, and pets, they find that they have a lot in common. But what the reader knows – and they do not – is that one of them is a little boy, and one of them is a little dragon! 

I love this book and so do my students! I read Dear Dragon as the first read aloud with my first and second graders. You can read about that experience on this post: Dear Blaise and George.  

In this blog tour installment, author Josh Funk answers a few questions about Dear Dragon and letter writing. 

1.       I read in your author bio that you sent a letter and a button to Corduroy. I love that you wanted to help a book character. Which contemporary book character would you want to help? What would you send?

Ooh! Great question! The first character that comes to mind is Amelia Bedelia - I’d send her a book of common idioms - although she’s not all that ‘contemporary.’

I might send Buckley a letter in a boat from his Papa, but I think he’s doing great with his mom.

So I think I’m gonna send a diamond detector to Sam and Dave. They had such terrible luck digging that hole!

2.       I had a few pen pals as a child, the one I remember most was a 15-year-old from Ecuador who came to Boston in 1977 on one of the Tall Ships. I still have a softball he signed. Did you ever have a pen pal? 

The short answer is no. I never had a pen pal. I think it would have been really cool to have one, though. I loved getting mail (who doesn’t?)! And maybe part of why I wrote Dear Dragon is to express the desire for a pen pal? I never really thought about it like that until now. Hmmm, you’re really diving into my subconscious.

I did write a lot of letters to friends and family while I was away at summer camp, so in some ways, they were temporary pen pals. But everyone I wrote to was someone I already knew in person. So that doesn’t really count.

3.       In this age of instant messages, there is something beautiful in sending a note out into the world not knowing when you will get a reply. I recently sent a message a few weeks after sending a note to Scotland to make sure it got there. Clearly, I have some issues around the instantaneous style of communication these days.  Do you still write letters and send notes? Do you deal with this same issue?

I’ve written a lot more lately (often accompanying books and swag to educators and readers). But if you need to send only text, need it to get to the recipient quickly, and need a prompt response or return receipt, there are better ways to send things today than snail mail.

Because my kids don’t have email (yet) and we’ve moved a handful of times, I’ve helped them write letters to their friends. There’s something exhilarating just seeing my kids’ excitement at getting mail - and running to the mailbox to send their own letters. When someone takes the time to write a personal note, addresses an envelope, and drops it in the post, it expresses a caring and thoughtfulness that no text or email can replicate.

And you can’t cut and paste handwriting.

4.       How do you think letter writing influenced you as a writer in general? How do you think letter writing can help today's readers?

The sharing of letters is a very personal activity. And a book (especially in first person) is just like that - a letter to the reader. A personal story shared by a character. Writing may be a solitary activity. And often, so is reading. In the end, doesn’t it come down to writer (and illustrator) communicating with the reader? Just like a letter?

When going through the attic of my parents’ house, I found letters I’d written as a child from camp, letters I’d received, and letters written to and from family members now gone. Letters often capture a moment in time, emotions, or both. On rare occasion they become historical documents, whether personal (like the ones I found) or even public. I love the website Letters of Note - there are some great author letters in there.

The time and care put into writing letters simply makes them more meaningful. Some letters live in museums. A snapchat message disappears in 10 seconds.

Although it may seem patronizing, I think children have more reason to write letters than anyone. News is likely to be less urgent and they don’t need email or phones yet (depending on the age). But unlike arbitrary writing assignments, a personal relationship is a very practical reason to writing letters. Writing a letter can actually make a friend.
5.       Please explain why you chose a boy and a dragon and why it was important for them to be surprised when they meet.

In part, the book was inspired by my son’s love of dragons. He was a big fan of Shelly Moore Thomas’s TAKE CARE, GOOD KNIGHT and Jodi Moore’s WHEN A DRAGON MOVES IN. My wife (who teaches middle school social studies) was discussing her students’ pen pals when my son declared, “I wanna be pen pals with a dragon!” So that’s why a boy and a dragon.

As far as their surprise, I just thought it would be funny. If they didn’t realize they were writing to different species, it would open up silly illustration possibilities. And Rodolfo Montalvo and the Penguin art team magnificently exceeded my expectations!

Interestingly, early readers of Dear Dragon have read deeper into the relationship. Throughout the book, George (boy) and Blaise (dragon) make assumptions about each other’s character that are incorrect (such as species). But also throughout the book, they’ve created a bond of friendship. And friendship can overcome the surprise of skin (or scale) color. In my experience, kids usually don’t notice that stuff. And the resolution of their surprise is as true to life as a book about a boy and a dragon could be.

Want to know more? 
Check out the book trailer:

~About Josh~
Josh Funk is the author of Dear Dragon (Viking/Penguin) and other picture books. 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 at www.joshfunkbooks.com and on twitter @joshfunkbooks.

~ Don't forget to check out these other 
Dear Dragon blog tour posts~
LibLaura5 – September 5
Teach Mentor Texts – September 7
As They Grow Up – September 8
Emily’s Reading Room – September 9

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