Seven Questions (Or So) Over Sunshine Snack
with Angela and Tony DiTerlizzi

h1 October 27th, 2009 by jules

Dude. I have to say I’ve wanted to interview award-winning author/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi for yeeeeears now. I like his books; I really like his art; and I like it pretty much whenever he speaks. (Really, have you explored yet the videos at his web site? Big fun.) So, I’m happy he’s made it by this morning for breakfast. He and his wife, Angela—who are pictured above (and whose glasses I covet somethin’ fierce)—have recently collaborated on a new series of titles for the wee’est of children, called Adventure of Meno. These books, which make me laugh (and whose series was launched this month by Simon & Schuster), are about none other than an elf. A toddler elf. A toddler SPACE elf. Whose best friend is a jellyfish. And who says things like “sunshine snack” for breakfast and “moo juice” for milk. (There’s even a “happy fun bowl” in Book Two, which brings to mind probably my VERY FAVORITE Saturday Night Live commercial parody EVER, but I seriously digress.)

Though Tony’s accustomed to bringing us fantastical creatures in many of his books—including the New York Times best-selling serial, The Spiderwick Chronicles (co-created with Holly Black), and his 2003 Caldecott-Honor title, Mary Howitt’s The Spider and the Fly—his illustrations for the Meno books mark somewhat of a departure in style for him, as you can see in the illlustrations featured in the interview below. It’s all good fun. Er, big fun, as Meno would say.

Angela’s also here this morning to talk about Meno, as well as what’s next for her, and Tony answered my illustrator-interview questions. He sent tons of art; he and Angela both gave considerable thought to their interview questions (which is nice, ’cause… you know, let’s face it: You can tell those folks who rush through ’em); and, I have to add, Tony even did things like sent captions for the art so that I didn’t have to go hunting myself for the illustrations’ sources. All that’s to say that, if I ever meet him, I’m totally gonna hug his neck. And his lovely wife’s. And then I’m gonna “borrow” their new shades.

The interviews are all topped off at the end with a Pivot Questionnaire for each of them. It’s mighty fun to have them here this morning, not to mention I’m happy to be in the company of folks who use the word “dude” as often as I do. (Not in this interview, mind you, but…well, just watch their video, linked below in the interview.) As Meno would say, I thank them for stopping by for a “sunshine snack” during this “sunshine time.” We’ll start with Angela, whose sunshine snack will be… well, her favorite breakfast seems to be “whatever our two-and-a-half year old daughter is requesting me to cook up. As of late, the most popular morning delights have been pancakes with sprinkles in the shape of hearts. (Gotta love the endless uses for a cookie cutter.) That said, today she enjoyed honey raisin toast while I had a tootsie roll.” I’ll bring the coffee then, and Angela and I can have some of those heart-shaped pancakes. Mmm. With a tootise roll for dessert. Let’s get right to it then…

* * * * * * *

7-Imp: Tell me how the character Meno came about.

Angela: The character of Meno was born from a nickname we had given to a good friend of ours. Tony and I were amused that when he was asked a question his usual response would be “Me? No.” The seed for his near-sighted, jellyfish best friend with a flatulence problem was based on Tony, and Wishi, the bright-eyed, wish-granting sprite, is based on me.

7-Imp: What was it like to collaborate with your husband on a children’s book? This was your first collaboration, correct?

Angela: Tony and I have unofficially collaborated on most of his books. I have always offered input, art suggestions, and editorial comments, as well as marketing and publicity strategies, and I even played the role of puppeteer on his book tour for G is for Gzonk! But, Adventure of Meno is the most involved I have been in any of his projects.

The process of making a book is a very collaborative one to begin with, and I admire how open to suggestion Tony is when it comes to his work. He has always had a very clear vision of what a final book will look like, but always checks any ego at the door and makes decisions based on what’s best for the book. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

7-Imp: Tell me a little bit about Yummy Trip! and Uh-Oh Sick! What’s in store for Meno in these titles? And when they will hit bookstore and library shelves?

Angela: We really wanted Meno’s adventures to be reflective of what toddlers experience in their everyday lives. In Yummy Trip!, Meno and friends decide to have a picnic. Juice box — check; spork — check; giant napkin — check; choco-snak — ? It seems that someone forgot to bring the choco-snaks! But who?

“Now! Machines! GO!”
Adventure of Meno: Yummy Trip!, forthcoming from Simon & Schuster, 2010.

In Uh-Oh Sick!, Meno wakes up with a cold, and Yamagoo does all he can to help him feel better. Nothings seems to work, so it’s time to call Wishi! These next adventures of Meno will be landing in stores Spring, 2010.

7-Imp: Can you tell mes about Say What?, your forthcoming title? Who will be illustrating that one? Any other book news/new titles?

Angela: I wrote Say What? when Soph was just under a year old, and my days were happily filled with countless read-alouds of Dr. Seuss, Margaret Wise Brown, Eric Carle, and Ruth Krauss and Mary Blair’s retro masterpiece, I Can Fly. I loved their repetition, rhyme, and seamless marriage of perfectly-charming illustrations. That, combined with our little one learning about cows, roosters, kitties, and the noises they make, made me think about the wordless communication of animals. It begged the question, “What are animals really saying in their sounds everyday?” I wondered if animal’s MOOs and BAAs were like parents trying to discern between their baby’s GOOs and GAAs.

I shared the manuscript with Tony, and he encouraged me to show it to S&S. Much to my delight, they loved the concept and paired me with Allyn Johnston and Andrea Welch — the amazingly talented duo of editors at Beach Lane Books. Then, enter the uber-talented illustrator Joey Chou. A designer/friend/agent shared his work with me, and we thought it was the perfect fit. He is currently working on the illustrations, and I am dying to see the final stuff.

As for any other book news, I have ideas for several other picture books — some that Tony and I have cooked up together. Others that someone else might be right for. And, of course, we have several more Meno adventures in the works.

7-Imp: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Angela: I am embarrassed to say I was not much of a reader growing up. The only picture book I remember having was The Little Engine That Could. I had an Encyclopedia Brown book that I loved and one Choose Your Own Adventure book that I read over and over again. My reading comprehension was not the best, and I found it tedious to focus on some of the bigger chapter books. I remember sneaking the Beatrix Potter books out of my middle school library, because I was embarrassed that I wanted to look at books with pictures, instead of trudging through Where the Red Fern Grows. As I got older, I abandoned reading books for fun and resented required reading. I did love writing poetry, analyzing song lyrics, or reading a script for the school play — but not books.

Years later, I have Tony to thank for reintroducing me to books. At first, I thought it was creepy that a grown man had a Bentley and Egg (William Joyce) poster hanging in his bathroom when we met. Then, one day, I wandered over to his bookshelf. I remember pulling out Jon Scieszka and Steve Johnson’s The Frog Prince, Continued. I laughed out loud from the first page, and—at that moment—my missing literary childhood was rediscovered at the age of twenty.

7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Angela: I don’t know if there’s much that most people don’t know about me. I tell it like it is and wear my heart on my sleeve. Oh — one thing…about four or five years ago, I went to see a psychic with a friend of mine — just for fun. The woman told me many things that day, one of which was that I should be a writer. I scoffed it off and told my friend, “I bet she says that to everyone!” Maybe her suggestion changed my destiny or perhaps she just knew it to be true, but either way, here I am doing this interview for Adventure of Meno. Creepy and cool, right?

* * * * * * *

And here’s Tony! “I am actually a boring cereal-juice-and-coffee kind of guy,” he says. “My cholesterol has been high, so I’ve been eating a lot of Cheerios. I mean, A LOT. Actually we have a ton of cereal still here from last year’s General Mills Spiderwick promotion, and I can’t let all of that cereal go to waste…I didn’t even know they made a ‘Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup’ cereal. Now, I’m just hoping for an M&M’s cereal.” I’m going to join Tony for that Reese’s cereal. Let’s get the basics from him while we set the table for our sunshine snack. I’ll bring the moo juice.

7-Imp: Are you an illustrator or author/illustrator?

Tony: I think about this frequently. I’ve tried “Children’s Book Creator” or simply “Kids’ Book Guy,” but for now, I am going with “Storyteller.” Ultimately, I am using words and pictures to tell a story to kids of all ages.

7-Imp: Can you list your books-to-date?

Tony: I’ve published most of my books at Simon & Schuster. Here are some faves, in order:

Here are some more Spiderwick titles:

…and here are some books that I’ve contributed to that I am proud of:

“Piglet with violets”
The Art of Reading: Forty Illustrators Celebrate RIF’s 40th Anniversary,
Dutton Books, 2005

7-Imp: What is your usual medium, or––if you use a variety—your preferred one?

Tony: I am constantly moving around and exploring new media or a combination of media. I do this in order to keep evolving as an artist. By challenging myself both technically and stylistically, I am excited, and (hopefully) my work remains fresh.

Usually, though, I paint in Holbein’s acryla gouache –- I LOVE this stuff. It’s not as slippery as gouache tends to be, but not as steadfast as acrylics. This is usually done over a tonal pencil drawing (done with Berol Prismacolor pencils, usually a sepia or umber).

If I am inking, I like either a permanent micro-ball pen or old-fashioned dip pens — using FW inks and a Hunt’s #102 nib.

Sometimes I color stuff digitally (like Gzonk or Meno), but it’s always over a hand-drawn image. I still want the art to feel like it came out of a human, not a machine…I’m old-fashioned that way.

“A is for an Angry Ack”
G is for One Gzonk!: An Alpha-Number-Bet Book,
Simon & Schuster, 2006.

“The snooping Bloobytack”
G is for One Gzonk!: An Alpha-Number-Bet Book,
Simon & Schuster, 2006.

7-Imp: If you have illustrated for various age ranges (such as, both picture books and early reader books OR, say, picture books and chapter books), can you briefly discuss the differences, if any, in illustrating for one age group to another?

Tony: I never really differentiate the age group that I am illustrating for. What I really do is alter my style to suit what it is that the particular story wants. It’s like I think of myself as a director for a little production: How will I make the sets? Light the sets? Design the costumes? Cast the characters?

For instance, when conceiving a creepy modern-day fairy tale, like Spiderwick, I studied the old turn-of-the-century illustrations of Arthur Rackham and A.B. Frost. And so, I used that calligraphic pen-and-ink style for those books. However, Arthur Spiderwick’s Fantastical Field Guide was a serious, pseudo-scientific look into the world of fabulous creatures. So, I tried for a life-like painterly style inspired by John James Audobon.

Even The Spider & The Fly is subtly different than the creepy imagery found in the Spiderwick books. For Mary Howitt’s famous poem, I looked at Edward Gorey and Chas Addams to add a little humor to the tragic ending.

You could contrast those books with a lighter story, like the nonsensical alphabet book, G is for One Gzonk!, where I aimed for the flat, graphic feel of 1950-’60s picture books done by the likes of Dr. Seuss or P. D. Eastman.

I let the text inform me as to what sort of emotion or mood this story needs and build the book around that emotion to help tell it in the most concise way possible. For me, it simply does not end with the illustrations. The titling and fonts, the paper stock, the trim-size…all of these things are very important when crafting a book.

Early character designs for The Spider & The Fly,
Simon & Schuster, 2002

“The spider turned around”
The Spider & The Fly,
Simon & Schuster, 2002

“Poor, foolish thing!”
The Spider & The Fly,
Simon & Schuster, 2002

Early cover design for The Spider & The Fly,
Simon & Schuster, 2002

Final cover

7-Imp: Where are your stompin’ grounds?

Tony: We currently reside in Amherst, Massachusetts. We love the vibe of this town (and its neighbor, Northampton) and the literary history of the area. Emily Dickinson grew up here; Jane Yolen lives here; Eric Carle built his picture book museum in an apple orchard down the street. The list of children’s folks in the area is staggering.

Character design from Ted,
Simon & Schuster, 2001.

“Happy Birthday!”
Ted, Simon & Schuster, 2001.

“It was a masterpiece…”
Ted, Simon & Schuster, 2001.

7-Imp: Can you briefly tell me about your road to publication?

Tony: I started sending samples of my work out immediately after graduating {from} the Ft. Lauderdale Art Institute in 1992, but sending unsolicited portfolios {to} the major houses from afar didn’t get me anywhere. Simultaneously, I was also submitting to the game publisher TSR, maker of Dungeons & Dragons. TSR hired me right away as a freelancer, and I illustrated for them for most of the decade.

Copyright Tony DiTerlizzi, 2008Fast forward to 1996 where Angela and I moved to Brooklyn, New York, to make our dreams come true. (She wanted to break into stand-up comedy and be a make-up artist to the stars: Ultimately, she performed at Caroline’s Comedy Club and was a make-up artist for Saturday Night Live and The Today Show — not bad…not bad at all).

For about a year, I tried to make contacts at the big houses, constantly dropping off my portfolio, picking up the occasional book cover work, and attending what SCBWI seminars I could afford. It was slow-going.

Angela happened to be doing make-up for a gal who worked for Book Fairs downtown at the Scholastic building. Of course, Ang talked me up and got her card. I dropped off my portfolio the following day. There, I was introduced to a young assistant editor named Kevin Lewis. Kevin liked me, liked my art, and—most importantly—he liked my story ideas for books. Unfortunately, no one else at Scholastic shared in his enthusiasm. I was devastated. I’d finally found someone in children’s publishing who understood where I was coming from and what I wanted to accomplish…but he was alone in seeing my potential.

So, Kevin left Scholastic.

And called me one day from Simon & Schuster. My book, Jimmy Zangwow (which he’d been helping me refine), was the first picture book he acquired upon joining their staff in the late nineties.

I never looked back, and have published the bulk of my work with S&S. In fact, this year marks a decade-long relationship. Even though Kevin’s no longer with the company, his passion, encouragement, and confidence that he instilled in me has helped me understand what it means to make books for children.

7-Imp: Can you please point readers to your web site and/or blog?

Copyright Tony DiTerlizzi, 2008Tony: I am at My blog:…and I am also on Facebook and MySpace…look me up.

7-Imp: Any new titles/projects you might be working on now that you can tell me about?

Tony: Well, with The Spiderwick Chronicles coming to an end, I am launching two new projects that I am incredibly excited about.

As I mentioned earlier, Adventure of Meno was created with my wife, Angela, and is a series of silly picture books reminiscent of Little Golden Books and other baby boomer toys. The stories center around a space elf, named Meno, and his best pal—a nearsighted jellyfish—named Yamagoo. Though these books are clearly aimed for the toddler age, we created them with the parent in mind, adding bits of humor so that both child and adult can have fun together while reading them.

Meno’s house of cloud
Adventure of Meno: Big Fun!, Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Wishi and Zanzibar:
“I am Zanzibar. I am wet. I live in HAPPY FUN BOWL. Please to give shrimp flake.”
Adventure of Meno: Wet Friend!, Simon & Schuster, 2009.

Fall of 2010, I will be releasing a new middle-reader story titled The Search for WondLa. It’s about a twelve-year-old girl, who is raised by a robot on an alien planet. The girl is searching for other human life, but it looks like she may be the only one left. It’s inspired by my love of classic books, like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, but also by some of my favorite films, like Star Wars and Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind . I simply wanted to create a twenty-first-century fairy tale.

Mmm. Coffee.Our table’s set—coffee’s on, and Tony’s got his cereal. I just threw some M&M’s in his Cheerios, too, so we’re set. Let’s keep at it…

1. 7-Imp: What exactly is your process when you are illustrating a book? You can start wherever you’d like when answering: getting initial ideas, starting to illustrate, or even what it’s like under deadline, etc. Do you outline a great deal of the book before you illustrate or just let your muse lead you on and see where you end up?

Tony: For me, the process for book-making is different from story to story. Sometimes, I start off with a handful of sketches, and sometimes it’s a written outline. Every book has its own little journey.

For Spiderwick, it started out as a field guide to dragons and monsters that I made over the summer break when I was twelve-years-old. I created the artwork on notebook paper with felt-tip markers and wrote detailed descriptions of the creatures, including creating the scientific Latin names for each species.

I never forgot about that book, and it ultimately evolved into Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You.

Black Phooka from Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to
the Fantastical World Around You
Simon & Schuster, 2005.

North American Griffin from Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to
the Fantastical World Around You
Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Old World Leprechaun from Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to
the Fantastical World Around You
Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Other projects, like Kenny & The Dragon or The Spider & The Fly, came from a long-time love of the classics. In both cases, it started with coming up with a fresh approach to a story (or poem) that many are familiar with. In the case of Spider & Fly, my editor simply sent over Mary Howitt’s poem. As I read the famous lines, my mind jumped to Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies or Chas Addams’ Mother Goose. Immediately, I sketched out my idea for Mr. Spider and for Ms. Fly, and I was on my way.

For Kenny, it was a complete re-imagining of Kenneth Grahame’s The Reluctant Dragon. I wanted to re-tell the story in the tradition of old fairy tales that get re-told periodically so that readers of today may enjoy it. My hope is that someone else will tackle it years from now. Classic tales like that need to stay on kids’ bookshelves, no matter what form they are in.

Character sketches for Kenny & The Dragon
Simon & Schuster, 2008

Unused illustration of Grahame playing the piano,
Kenny & The Dragon,
Simon & Schuster, 2008

“George, our Slayer,” finished illustration from
Kenny & The Dragon,
Simon & Schuster, 2008

Early cover design for Kenny & The Dragon
Simon & Schuster, 2008

Cover painting for Kenny & The Dragon
Simon & Schuster, 2008

Final cover

But, what’s exciting to me now is that there are a handful of stories I have been actively working on for over ten years. Every once and awhile, I get a little idea about a scene or a character for these as-of-yet published projects and go in and add to them. This, I feel, is probably the most important step. Mulling over ideas and concepts (either in writing or in art) always leads to a refinement and a clearer understanding of what the story is that you are trying to create.

Cover illustration for The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone,
Simon & Schuster, 2003.

2. 7-Imp: Describe your studio or usual work space.

Tony: My studio is a ginormous, mutated version of my bedroom as a kid. There are books everywhere — filed on shelves, stacked on the floor, piled up in the bathroom…you name it. There are also toys tucked in every nook and cranny. Vintage Star Wars toys, modern vinyl toys, weird stuffed animals…basically, lots and lots of clutter. Hopefully, visitors find it as comfy as I do. I sure spend enough time in it.

Oh, and the studio bathroom wall is embellished with drawings from many of our visiting friends. Brett Helquist drew a life-sized image of Count Olaf behind the door, and Jane Yolen said he (the drawing, not Brett) made her nervous when she had to pee — LOVE THAT!

“My desk, covered in sketches and reference {books}, while working on Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You…”
(Click to enlarge.)

3. 7-Imp: As a book lover, it interests me: What books or authors and/or illustrators influenced you as an early reader?

Tony: There were quite a few books in the DiTerlizzi household growing up. We had “The 3 S’s”: Seuss, Sendak and Silverstein. We also had fairy books illustrated by Arthur Rackham, Brian Froud, and H.J. Ford. And there was this amazing, large collection of Norman Rockwell’s work — which all of us kids loved poring over. His work was a tremendous influence on me, especially the way he could get his characters to act on canvas. That’s not always easy to do.

I was read to frequently, and in turn, read to my younger brother and sister. We enjoyed The House at Pooh Corner, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Andrew Lang’s Rainbow Fairy books, to name a few.

Early cover design for Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World
Moon-Pie Adventure
Simon & Schuster, 2000

“The Grimblegrinder smiled…”
Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon-Pie Adventure,
Simon & Schuster, 2000

“Can I please have a Moon Pie?…”
Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon-Pie Adventure,
Simon & Schuster, 2000

4. 7-Imp: If you could have three (living) illustrators—whom you have not yet met—over for coffee or a glass of rich, red wine, whom would you choose?

Tony: I am actually the type of person that will go up to someone and introduce myself at a social event or even ring them up on the phone if I want to chat. I have Angela to thank for building up my confidence in doing that; I was pretty shy when she first met me.

That said, I have reached out to a lot of the (living) children’s book people that I greatly admire and even had coffee/food/drinks with a few of them.

Despite any resemblance, this is not---I repeat, NOT---Jon Scieszka.When we were living in Brooklyn, I called Jon Scieszka out of the blue, and he met me at a local coffee shop to talk shop. I think I had my first two picture books out and was completely unknown, but he was very gracious and met with me anyways. In fact, he was one of the first people (outside of the publisher) to see my dummy for Spider & Fly. He showered me in praise and encouragement, which meant a lot to me. The books he’s created with Lane Smith are still faves of mine. Jon even saw Meno in its early stages and loved it. He deserves all the accolades he garners, for he truly is a person who loves kids, loves making books for kids, and loves other people who make books for kids.

Artist-wise, I am a fan of many, but one person that comes to mind is Brian Selznick. And I’ve talked and met with him a few times.

One of the moments that stands out was when Ang and I went up to Toronto for the ALA awards ceremony to receive the Caldecott Honor for Spider & Fly. Brian was there to congratulate all of the winners, as I think he may have won the Caldecott Medal the year prior with The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins. Anyways, it meant a lot to a newcomer like me, that he would be so supportive of my work. I’ve remained in touch since then and always look forward to what he creates next…hopefully, one day he can tell me over a meal. Heck, I’ll even buy.

Okay, someone I have yet to meet that I greatly admire…lessee…well, I’ve met Maurice Sendak before; in fact, I choked him at an art opening (true story), but I would LOVE to sit with him over a cup of coffee or wine and listen to his thoughts on book-making now — at the twilight of his career. He’s worked with some of the best, seen a lot of trends and change, and has a tremendous body of work to show for it. What a master.

Cover illustration for The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Ironwood Tree,
Simon & Schuster, 2004.

5. 7-Imp: What is currently in rotation on your iPod or loaded in your CD player? Do you listen to music while you create books?

Tony: I listen soundtracks when I work. I grew up in a house FULL of vinyl records and love rock and pop, but for some reason, I can’t listen to singing while I work — it has to be instrumental. So I create these playlists that go with each project. In fact, I’ve now been sending CDs to folks at S&S, so they, too, can get into the mindset I am in while working.

For instance, here is a sample of what’s on the Meno playlist:

Pop music-wise, I listen to everything from the classics, like Elvis, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, Elton John, Dire Straits, and U2, to more modern pop like Five for Fighting, Aqualung, and Air. I guess I like a good story, no matter what, so the singer-songwriter stuff is the stuff I like most.

Illustration from The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Wrath of Mulgarath,
Simon & Schuster, 2004.

6. 7-Imp: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

Tony: I am obsessive about things. I mean, when I get into something, its ALL OUT — including my books. But sometimes, I obsess over other random stuff.

Remember when Hasbro re-released the old Star Wars figures back in the late ’90s? Yeah, I am one of those thirty-somethings who had to get ALL OF THEM.

I was into macro-photography of insects for many years and LOVED shooting close-up photos of bugs, then posting the images on sites so that they may be identified by actual entomologists.

I also have EVERY Elton John album from the 1970s…deluxe versions, live versions. You name it, I got it. I am a completist.

Though, when I think about it, these are all things that were important to me as a child. Perhaps this may be a bizarre by-product of me continually tapping the ten-year-old version of myself. Or I am just crazy.

Frontis for The Spiderwick Chronicles: Lucinda’s Secret,
Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Frontis for Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles: The Wyrm King,
Simon & Schuster, 2009.

7. 7-Imp: Is there something you wish interviewers would ask you — but never do? Feel free to ask and respond here.

Tony: Imaginary Interviewer: Why make books for children? Why not adults? Why spend all this effort perfecting your craft for a nine-year-old?

Me: Many times you are asked about the books you enjoyed growing up with. For me, the image conjured here is my mom reading books to me at night. That’s the first time I can remember really enjoying books. But I was not the reader then. She was.

Copyright Tony DiTerlizzi, 2003At fourth or fifth grade, I had grown past the I-Can-Read types of books (like Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad are Friends) to reading books, because I was curious about other stories. That independent discovery was an important time for me. It is when books reveal their true power. I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, The Hobbit, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, dinosaur books…reading went from something I had to do to something I wanted to do. The books that I read during this time were extremely pivotal in creating a life-long reader.

Think back to that moment, that afternoon when you were eight- or nine-years-old in a library, poking around, half-bored, looking for something that may interest you, and then diving 20,000 leagues under the sea or flying off to fight pirates in Neverland later that night — gripped by the author’s word combinations and the illustrator’s vivid pictures.

But really, when you think about it, it’s all just marks on paper. Icons. Symbols. Representations of someone else’s idea of how they see the world. The storyteller can be alive and well crafting new tales in the comfort of their home, or dust and memories from another time. If it speaks to you, it doesn’t matter.

That’s when there is true magic.

That’s when the outside world stops while you turn the pages.

That’s the moment I aspire to be a part of.

Frontis for The Spiderwick Chronicles: The Seeing Stone,
Simon & Schuster, 2003.

8. 7-Imp: I’m going to add one more question here, Tony: What was it like to collaborate with Angela on these Meno titles?

Tony: I just do what she tells me to do.

I’m kidding! (Sort of.) Seriously, its great: First of all, our humor is similar and is most effective when we play off of each other. You can watch one of the Simon & Schuster videos to see what I mean. Also, she has a fantastic color sense that is much more vibrant than the muted palettes I tend to gravitate towards, so her choosing the colors for the books really brought them to life for me.

We’ve got lots of crazy ideas for future Meno books, so we’ll see how they do. Otherwise, we’ll just create and explore different types of stories to craft together. We are just getting started.

* The Pivot Questionnaire — Angela *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Angela: “Farkle!” It’s Sophia’s word for “sparkle,” and I love it!

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Angela: “NO.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Angela: Self-confidence, Little Golden Books, and doughnuts. In any particular order.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Angela: Laziness and nose hairs.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Angela: My daughter’s laughter.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Angela: I hate the sound of someone coughing up phlegm. It totally disgusts me and makes me nauseous.

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Angela: I would love to be a pop star. I mean, I already am one in my mind. I am always dancing and signing — in the car, around the house, in front of the mirror.

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Angela: Anything involving bugs.

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Angela: “Congrats! Your album, Farkle, just went platinum. Enjoy a doughnut!”

* * * The Pivot Questionnaire — Tony * * *

7-Imp: What is your favorite word?

Tony: “Dude!”

7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?

Tony: “No.”

7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

Tony: Exploration.

7-Imp: What turns you off?

Tony: Taking oneself too seriously.

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?

Tony: My daughter playing by herself. And also her saying “daddy.”

7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?

Tony: Car alarms. (They always went off in the middle of the night while we lived in New York.)

7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Tony: Ice cream taster/creator/vendor. LOVE LOVE LOVE ice cream!

7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?

Tony: Ice cream taster/creator/vendor. (I’d weigh a million pounds and my heart would explode from all of the cholesterol.)

7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Tony: “Dude! You’re just in time to explore the ice cream buffet just behind the gates. And listen…do you hear that? It’s recordings of your daughter playing and saying ‘daddy’ when she was a kid. Come on in.”

* * * * * * *

All pictures of Tony and Angela taken by Kim Pilla.

All the illustrations and book covers—every single one of them (with the exception of I Can Fly and The Frog Prince, Continued)—are courtesy of Tony DiTerlizzi. Dudes, be cool. All rights reserved. Don’t go takin’ any art without asking first. Thanks.

The spiffy and slightly sinister gentleman introducing the Pivot Questionnaire is Alfred. He was created by Matt Phelan, and he made his 7-Imp premiere in mid-September. Matt told Alfred to just pack his bags and live at 7-Imp forever and always introduce Pivot. All that’s to say that Alfred is © 2009, Matt Phelan.

26 comments to “Seven Questions (Or So) Over Sunshine Snack
with Angela and Tony DiTerlizzi”

  1. Wow! They are a great model for couples collaborating together! I like their playfulness and their generosity. Terrific post.

  2. OMG! This is one of those interviews where I need my oxygen mask. Fun, amazing, faboo, interesting, insightful, awesome, brilliant! (If only you had posted more images.) 😀

    Seriously hyperventilating over all this goodness. Meno looks wonderful. Love the Moonpie book, but why haven’t I seen G is for One Gzonk?! The brilliance of the Spiderwick Chronicles goes without sayin’ . . .

    Gorgeous photos of Tony and Angela. Their glasses slay me. And a man who loves ice cream that much? Heart shaped pancakes? “Fish of Jelly” tickles me.

    I’ll be on the floor the rest of the week if you want me.

    Thank you thank you thank you!!

  3. As my favorite teen customers would say, this post is made of 100% awesome.

    This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite 7-Impterviews ever, because I love DiTerlizzi’s illustrations and works. All of the images here – the adorable photographs and the illustrations alike – are fantastic in every sense of the word. As a matter of fact, you’ve posted some of my favorite DiTerlizzi drawings, including that of Byron the griffin (Holly Black said I may share him if Simon permits), the cover of The Ironwood Tree, and the Black Phooka.

    Dear Rainbow Wish Sprite:

    I have been a fan of Rainbow Brite since her creation in 1984. You appear to be an amalgamation of Rainbow Brite, her loyal sprite Twink, and an alien.

    Please be my new best friend.

    Little Willow

  4. […] in the coming months, but I leak a little bit about it in a new interview with Julie Danielson at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Please to […]

  5. Thanks for stopping by, you all.


    Little Willow: “7-Impterview” = brilliant new word!

  6. My words couldn’t possibly do justice to the brilliance represented by Tony and Angela. I want to hang out with both of them, laughing at Angela’s humor and watching Tony create such amazing art. I particularly love Tony’s response to his own question about making books for children — especially his discovery of the joys and magic of reading at the library as a kid. I remember those days very vividly myself.

    Loved the SNL video, Jules! Don’t you just love lawyers?

  7. Whoa, another feature de force…this is beyond awesome. We’re *total* DiTerlizzi geeks around here, devouring and owning most of his stuff. My favourite is still the Spiderwick’s Field Guide itself, with all of those huge, meticulously detailed fantastical creatures. Pure artistic genius.

    One thing that should be said here as well: Tony is an incredible supporter of young artists. He encourages kids to send their art to him, and he often posts it on his blog: Ella and Ivy have both been absolutely thrilled to see their drawings appear there. He’s also sent them super-cool packages of stuff back in the mail, including stickers, personal letters and hand-drawn sketches — even a Spiderwicks DVD. The first time, Ivy’s eyes were wide like two deep blue pools — a real artist she admires had personally thanked her for sending him her work. Talk about inspiring for a young, creative kid!

  8. Jeremy, I did not know that. That’s seven thousand kinds of awesome is what that is. Truly.

  9. “That’s when there is true magic.”

    So true.

    What a great interview! I have the first Meno on order, but I haven’t seen it yet. Can’t wait, though–the spreads look great.

    Little Willow, the doll I use as my “baby” when I do Toddler Times at the library is Patty O’Green from Rainbow Brite. I thought it was just me holding onto the Rainbow Brite love.

  10. I LOVE 7-Impterview!!! LW is a genius :)!

  11. Whoa. I am just dizzy at the awesomeness….

  12. You have an absolutely wonderful blog here! Great interviews! Such an inspiration for me!

  13. To know the Tone and the Ang is to be in constant motion emotionally and giggly. They are fun, generous-spirited, great neighbors, good friends. And would be even if they weren’t both fabulously talented. Some authors/illustrators have a brilliant style and a range from A to B. Tony (and Ang) go from A-Z and back again.

    And not a mean-spirited bone in either one’s body.

    Also, Tony has used my granddaughter as a model (I am not allowed to say for what since that would spoil the picture’s illusion) so how could I NOT love them. Even if they weren’t neighbors. Even if they weren’t friends. And even though they seem to have decamped for Florida once again.


    PS. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ang sends you here glasses.

  14. Thanks! Use the new term 7-Impterview as you will. 🙂

    Jeremy: Oh, that’s WONDERFUL. Kudos, Tony, for supporting young artists, and yay for Ivy and Ella!

    Adrienne: You just earned even more points with me! Big hugs to Patty o’Green.

  15. There’s so much good stuff in here! But I must confess, where I nodded vigorously was the favorite sound, i.e. Tony’s daughter playing by herself. I love that sound (and I can say so literally, as my husband’s name is Tony as well). 🙂

  16. Oh, Jules. You outdo yourself every time I let my guard down.

    I mean, turning over the 7-Imp platform to mega-talented, mega-nice, mega-committed artists and writers — in one sense, how can you go wrong? But every one of these 7-Impterviews (ha! but it’s a jealous, wish-I’d-said-that-oh-how-I-wish “ha!”) has to take soooooo much work…

    PBS really needs to get you to do a kid’s-book series along the lines of that Sister Whozis Looks at Art, or whatever it’s called. You know, with slow-mo zooms and pans of artwork like Tony DeTerlizzi’s, a la Ken Burns and the Civil War photos, with voiceovers and a soundtrack.

    (If you could talk her into helping with the project, you might even get A Certain Sam as your musical director.)

    I would love to spend an entire weekend just poking around in Tony DiT’s library, study, studio, whatever he calls it. Preferably with a high-def photocopier: I want every one of these illustrations on my walls.

    And while I too loved his answer to the question-nobody-ever-asks, I hope that at some time he does consider a book for older folks. Kids aren’t the only ones who have those moments of epiphany, standing on the edge of a new world they didn’t know existed: in this interview, I had one every time I scrolled down the freaking page.

    Thanks so much to Tony, Angela, and (as always) you, Jules.

  17. […] Remember this interview with the fabulous DiTerlizzis? They are so kind: They sent me a pair of the sunglasses that […]

  18. Hi i dont know if this is the real site, but i’m really interested in your work and i’, looking at it for my A2 level in art. if this is the real site please please please e-mail me back it would be great 😀 thanks!

  19. […] going to keep her eye out for the Field Guide for us. Such fun! {Illustration re-posted here from my October ‘09 interview with Tony and Angela […]

  20. […] Starting Tony DiTerlizzi’s Search for Wondla this weekend as a read-aloud. It might be my first grader’s first science […]

  21. Why, hello!

    Call me Div. I’m a huge fan of the Spiderwick Chronicles, I’ve read every one of the first five books and I even own the field guide. I love it!

    I’m very interested in the paranormal and faeries in particular. I’m just wondering though, how many of these faeries come from actual local or universal folklore and myth and how many did you guys create and make up yourselves?

  22. […] or something of that sort. I would send invites to a dozen and, on pins and needles, I’d wait for Tony DiTerlizzi, Carter Goodrich, and David Shannon. That would be a great […]

  23. […] who visited me in 2009 for breakfast, is here this morning to say a bit about the book, and I thank her for stopping […]

  24. hi,

    i love this whole page.

    you are the best

  25. […]  fun “7 Impossible Things…” interview: w/ Tony and Angela […]

  26. […] summer I’ve been working on putting the finishing touches on Baby Love, written by Angela DiTerlizzi and published by Beach Lane Books. Baby Love [pictured below] will come out next […]

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