I first properly met Josh Funk when he bought me a cup of tea in a convention center in Boston for ILA. Properly because we had actually met at NerdCamp but had not had much time together. So in a crowded hallway, we sat down to talk picture books, writing, and what it means to work with kids and try to make the world better. Had I known that I would make a friend that day I would have made him buy me a donut (chocolate with sprinkles, please).
That day Josh told me of his latest picture book, he was still writing it and was wondering out loud about how characters would react to a child that perhaps didn’t see the wrong in his ways. We laughed about the perfect endings we both wished for all of our children and realized that the not so perfect endings are sometimes what makes books so amazing and also life so hard. I spoke of one student who right away reminded me of Albie Newton and how I wished that he would be a part of a world where his set ways were seen as strengths rather than an oddity.
More than a year later and that picture book we talked about is ready to have its cover revealed. When Josh asked me if I would do the honor, there was no other answer than yes. After all, this would perfectly coincide with another announcement I had planned; Josh Funk is a contender for Global Read Aloud 2018! His books are some of my 7th graders’ favorites, as well as my own childrens’, and will be perfect for sparking conversations around the world. I have wanted to tell him for some time but thought a little surprise would be better.
So surprise, Josh, thank you for trusting me to reveal Albie Newton to the world.
Who is Albie Newton?
A clever scientist?
A brilliant artist?
On the surface, it might seem like ALBIE NEWTON is a cute little story about a boy’s first day at school and how he attempts to make friends (and fails with hilarity), but everything eventually works out in the end. Hopefully, you’ll revel in the adorable illustrations created by Ester Garay. And I certainly want you to laugh at the silly STEAM-related situations in which Albie finds himself. For example:
Arjun ate his snack and finished Albie’s cleanup duties,
while Albie built a science lab and found a cure for cooties.
But there’s a deeper level; one I really struggled with getting right. And Pernille Ripp helped me realize exactly who Albie was and how to keep his character true.
We talk about the need for windows and mirrors. I believe Albie will be a mirror for some kids who often don’t get to see themselves in everyday, non-”issue” related stories.
Let me back up. One of the very first lessons you learn as a picture book writer is this:
The main character must solve the problem on their own – and learn a lesson in the process.
It’s a basic picture book paradigm – flip through pretty much any picture book and you’ll see what I mean. And this generally makes sense. Stories are far more satisfying if the main characters figure out how to solve their own problems. It’s less satisfying if a parent or teacher solves the problem and didactically explains the lesson.
But as an educator, you’ve likely encountered some students who, in certain social situations, have difficulty solving their own problems. And in some of those cases, kids may not even notice that they’ve caused problems … until it’s too late.
Back to Albie’s story, on his first day of school, he ends up unintentionally and unknowingly alienating his classmates one by one on each and every page of the book. As the tension rises and his classmates’ anger reaches a boiling point, Albie is still unaware he’s caused a conflict.
And then, I had my own conflict: How do I end this book?
Does Albie solve the problem himself? Does he apologize? Does he learn a lesson? That was the textbook answer according to the “Picture Book Paradigm”.
But I knew Albie’s character. He wouldn’t apologize on his own. I didn’t even believe he would change throughout the story. Would this be a satisfying ending for the reader? Would it be believable? After several phone calls and emails with my agent AND editor about this very topic, a decision had to made. Deadlines loomed. The illustrator was already hard at work.
And there I was, having coffee on a bench at the Hynes Convention Center for ILA 2016 in Boston explaining my struggle to Pernille Ripp. If you’ve read Pernille’s writing (and I’m assuming you have because this is her site, after all), you’ll know she’s got passionate opinions. And that day she didn’t disappoint.
Pernille said that she’d had students like Albie. And sometimes social interactions are incredibly challenging, to say the least. She adamantly said I needed to stick to my gut and have Albie NOT apologize or learn a cliché lesson. Because that’s how it would have been for many of the Albies she’s taught. And especially not because that’s just how picture books work.
Pernille’s encouragement gave me the confidence to keep Albie’s character the way I’d always intended – a mirror for those who need him to be one. And hopefully, Albie is a window for the rest of your students, who often have trouble interacting with and understanding the Albies of the world.
You might even say that Albie Newton isn’t really the main character of ALBIE NEWTON; the main character is everyone else in the class. And they’re the ones who learn that valuable lesson and come out of the story changed.
Without further ramblings, explanations, and ado, here is the cover of ALBIE NEWTON.
Thank you, Pernille, for hosting this cover reveal. And thank you for giving me the advice and confidence to make this book the way it needed to be.
ALBE NEWTON by Josh Funk, illustrated by Ester Garay, published by Sterling Children’s Books will be available everywhere on May 1, 2018.
Bio: Josh Funk writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as books – such as the Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast series (including The Case of the Stinky Stench and the upcoming Mission: Defrostable), It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Dear Dragon, Pirasaurs!, and the forthcoming Albie Newton, How to Code a Sandcastle (in conjunction with Girls Who Code), Lost in the Library: A Story of Patience and Fortitude (in conjunction with the New York Public Library), It’s Not Hansel and Gretel, and more coming soon!
Josh is a board member of The Writers’ Loft in Sherborn, MA and was 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 manuscripts.
Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys __(naps)_____ during ___(rain storms)_____ and has always loved ___(doing his taxes)_______. He has played __(old and wise)_____ since age _(2)_ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __(goldfish)________.