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My Pet Feet, Coding Sandcastles, and Dragons, Oh My!

Updated: Aug 30, 2022

Adventures in Learning Podcast -- Season 1, Episode 3

Host: Dr. Diane Special Guest: Josh Funk

Adventures in Learning Podcast Show Notes for Episode 3: My Pet Feet, Coding Sandcastles, and Dragons, Oh My! Adventures with Author Josh Funk Episode Summary:Coder by day and children's book author by night, author Josh Funk has published 15+ picture books, including How to Code a Sandcastle, the popular Lady Pancake and Sir French toast series, and the irreverent It's NOT a Fairy Tale series. Join us for a lively conversation as we discuss his brand new book, My Pet Feet (imagine a world without the letter R), as well as the surprising STEM/STEAM connections teachers and librarians make with his books. Link to Episode .

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I am so excited to welcome Josh Funk to the Adventures in Learning podcast today. I met Josh during the Shenandoah University Children's Literature Conference when I was asked to create STEAM activities to support and extend his works.

Not only did I fall in love with How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Roller Coaster, the two books I was originally asked to create activities for, but Josh's fabulous sense of humor charmed and inspired me to try to showcase each of his series in an unplugged coding activity for children. I strongly encourage you to check out the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series, including The Case of the Stinky Stench, Mission Defrostable, and Short and Sweet; It's NOT a Fairy Tale series, including It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk, It's Not Hansel and Gretel, It's Not Little Red Riding Hood, and the soon to be published It's Not The Three Little Pigs. And as a transplanted New Yorker, I absolutely love Lost in the Library and Where Is Our Library? — published in conjunction with the New York Public Library and featuring those lions Patience and Fortitude. Also coming out this week is My Pet Feet, a story of the alphabet chaos that ensues when the letter R goes missing.

Episode Highlights:

Adventures in Learning Podcast, Season 1, Episode 3

Host: Dr Diane Jackson Schnoor Special Guest: Author Josh Funk

[02:49] Coming out this week is My Pet Feet, a story of the alphabet chaos that ensues when the letter R goes missing. Josh discusses the challenges of writing a picture book with only 25 letters.

“And so I went and I started writing this story where the little girl wakes up one day and her pet ferret is turned into feet. And not only that, she can't say the word ferret. And the whole book is written without the letter R. It's challenging. And you know what? It is the math and science part of my brain kicking in again and making it like a puzzle,” Josh says in describing the plot of his newest picture book.

If you aren't familiar with what feet (I mean ferrets) are, my daughter got to help look after one at the Trevor Zoo. -- Dr. Diane

In My Pet Feet, the little girl chases her pet feet past a fog and toad instead of a frog and toad; down a tail in the woods instead of a trail in the woods; by a babbling book instead of a babbling brook; and into a gassy field instead of a grassy field. “It's not just a list of things,” Josh says. “There's a plot. And she's trying to sort of solve this mystery about what happened and what's going on with everything. And there's a lot of other visual gags throughout. But it's definitely, I think, my cleverest book, at least up there with Dear Dragon." [08:10]

Imagine the connections that students and teachers might make with the lack of a letter R. I'm envisioning there are going to be thousands of elementary and middle school classrooms this fall who are using this picture book and creating secret messages and/or trying to drop a letter as they're writing short stories or codes. "So I think you're probably spawning a ton of creative writing opportunities this fall." Dr. Diane [10:24]

[12:06] In this next section, we dig into Josh's early adventures in learning and how he turned his day job as a coder into inspiration for two of his books How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Roller Coaster. Did you know that he wanted to be a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox or a rock and roll star before settling on a career in coding? And his journey to becoming a successful picture book author (15+ books and counting) is even more interesting. Listen to learn how hard work and perseverance (and giving up fantasy football) pay off.

[18:53] Building STEAM Connections through Josh Funk’s books. We met in May 2022, when I was asked to create unplugged coding STEAM extensions for Josh’s books connected with an author visit. The Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference and the Metrics program asked me to compliment Josh’s author visit with unplugged coding games that kids could play. One of the best compliments I ever got was from a third grader at the end of an hour of unplugged coding games and activities, “That was even better than gym!” I was blown away by the enthusiasm. But the kids were playing and coding and doing games and puzzles and challenges that got their minds into critical thinking and problem solving — and they had a blast with it.

For the STEAM connections, I started with what were the two obvious books — How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Roller Coaster. And we created some puzzles where one of the kids had to be the programmer and the other kids were the computer and they were using blocks to try to recreate a picture.

But I found, at least for me as an educator, I was so enamored of those books that I started seeing opportunities in the other books for unplugged coding connections as well. Using my own photos from many visits to New York City, for example, I created an unplugged coding challenge where the kids had to write a code to move Patience and Fortitude (lion figurines) around the city and ultimately check out 3 miniature books from the new Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library before returning to their home outside the Fifth Avenue entrance of the New York Public Library. (Thank you, Lost in the Library and Where Is Our Library? for the inspiration!). Check out the pictures to see the Where is Our Library? and How to Code… unplugged coding games in action.

As an educator, it was fascinating for me to have the author actually come in and observe and participate with games and challenges I had developed for his books. I mean, how often does that happen? Evidently the experience is just as rare for the author.

For an author, you are really only in schools to talk about your books and to talk to students about writing, but you don't always get to the chance to see how they experience your books,” Josh says. “And with what you do, it was a more interesting experience than I've ever seen. It wasn't just read alouds, but you had puzzles and games and interactive activities for, it seems like, all of my books, which was amazing.” [01:36]

Other activities focused on the Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast series, including The Case of the Stinky Stench, Mission Defrostable, and Short and Sweet). Using clip art inspired by Brendan Kearney’s illustrations, I created a grid challenge where students had to manipulate Lady Pancake through such challenges as Casserole Cliff, Mount Everbean, the Broccoli Forest, and Marshmallow Crest in order to rescue Sir French Toast. Along the way, they had to create a basic coding sequence around the board that another player would be able to read, follow, and duplicate. Check out the pictures to see it in action.

Finally, students had an opportunity to engage with the It’s NOT a Fairy Tale series (more details on this later in the episode), including It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk, It's Not Hansel and Gretel, It's Not Little Red Riding Hood) to create secret codes and messages to help the lead characters foil the narrator.

In my mind, as an educator, Josh’s books naturally connect to puzzles and coding.The interesting thing is I didn't really connect the two things that I did, being an author and being a software engineer or a coder,” says Josh. I didn't connect them up at first, at all.” [20:35]

[22:05] Josh explains why How to Code a Sandcastle and How to Code a Roller Coaster, took a really long time for him to figure out how to write. He walks us through three different versions that led to the Pearl and Pascal adventures. [28:30} “So how did I decide what to put into these books?” Josh asks. “I did two things. One, I did research on how it (coding) was being taught. There's Scratch and Scratch Jr and, and there's many others that are worth looking at, and a lot of them taught the same concepts, at least at first. Now, you might branch pretty quickly into different directions or have the opportunity to branch, but sequences, loops, if then else's, or conditionals, whatever you want to call them, they were all sort of that first or second or third class or activity, whatever you want to call it. And you know what? Those are the same things you learn in your first week of a college coding class. So I always tell people, if you've read How to Code a Sandcastle, you've essentially audited a week of a college programming course.”

[34:00] Even though he has a day job, Josh has done 494 virtual school visits since the fall of 2015, and visited 117 schools. In this section, we talk about some of the surprising ways he’s seen teachers, librarians, and kids interacting with his books, including a deep dive on Dear Dragon and the ways teachers have used the book to talk about friendship and making assumptions without full context. There's also a back and forth about the transaction that takes place between author, illustrator, and reader to bring a book to life.

“Maybe that's part of the magic of the connection, is you (the author) do your magic, you write the words, you create what is in your heart or in your brain, and then it goes out into the world. And a teacher's creativity is applied to it. As they're talking to the students, they go, oh, this book would be perfect to use as we're talking about mapping or this is a great book as we're talking about the emotions of bullying or whatever it is. Teachers are such experts at building connections and helping kids to see themselves reflected in those books.” — [37:41] Dr Diane

“I think that a book really isn't complete until it has a reader reading it. And however that reader interprets that book is correct. There's no real way to argue with that. If that's how people are seeing it and they're experiencing it that way, then I think it's great.” [38:14] Josh Funk

[38:38] We dive into the background of the It’s NOT a Fairy Tale series, and get a sneak peek at It's Not The Three Little Pigs, which is coming out later this fall. As someone who helps elementary and early childhood educators look at ways to connect variations of folk literature and fractured fairy tales with surprising STEAM challenges, I am really excited to add this book to my collection.

[40:00] Josh Funk: “So these fairy tales started out because I always thought that characters in fairy tales do things that aren't really all that smart. And to adults, I would say fairy tale characters are pretty dumb. They're pretty stupid. If you walked into your grandmother's house and in your grandma's bed was a hairy, four legged talking wolf, don't you think you would know the difference between your grandma and that wolf? And if you lived in the woods your whole lives, don't you think you know that if you drop bread crumbs on the ground, animals are going to eat them? I mean, how dumb do you have to be, Hansel and Gretel? (I don't say that part to kids.)”

[48:22] We get a sneak peek at some of Josh’s upcoming projects, including a follow up to Dear Dragon called Dear Unicorn, which he wrote the first draft for while standing in line for two plus hours at the Slinky Dog roller coaster ride in Disney World. Dear Unicorn will be illustrated by Charles Santoso and it is probably going to come out in 2023.

[52:07] It was such a delight to chat with author, Josh Funk, whose books inspire coding, creativity, and adventures in learning. Check out My Pet Feet, coming out this week, and the soon to be published It’s NOT The Three Little Pigs. If you want to continue to explore Josh Funk’s picture books, look for @joshfunkbooks on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook (but don’t expect to see him on TikTok anytime soon). For more information about Josh Funk, please visit him at

f you have voices or topics that you would like to see featured in the podcast, please email me at

Please visit to learn more about how I help early childhood and elementary educators and librarians build connections between STEAM and multicultural picture books for engaged learning. Now booking keynotes, conference presentations, and professional development workshops for the 2022-23 school year. Hey, early childhood and elementary school teachers and librarians -- are you looking for ways to spice up your curriculum, build connections with engaged STEAM learners, and introduce multicultural versions of fairy tales and folk literature? If so, check out my on-demand virtual course, Beyond Ever After.

Welcome to the launch of a brand new adventure. In the spirit of building connections, we are going to be talking to a wide range of fascinating people this season. Each episode will explore adventures in learning from a unique perspective, plus feature interesting children's literature and picture books that will pair beautifully with STEM/STEAM challenges for engaged learning. Expect to hear from teachers, authors, STEM leaders, and more. There might even be a #bestdayever surprise or two in store. * Affiliate Program: I love sharing news about children's books, and helping families find great books for their kids. It is my passion, and I spend a great deal of time sharing my thoughts on my social media reels, blog, and podcast. I am a participant in's affiliate program as a way to generate a small amount of income from my work. On each post, I also share links so families can find books at their public library and local bookstores. I also support my favorite independent bookstores, Winchester Book Gallery,Mahogany Books, and Books of Wonder, buying personal books there and sending locals to shop.

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