The Z-Kids and I recently had the privilege and delight of talking with author/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi! Tony is the creator of many wonderful, otherworldly picture books. He is also a creator of the Spiderwick Chronicles, a series of chapter books about the unseen fantastical creatures around you. The series was later turned into a feature length movie. Tony has also collaborated with his wife Angela on a new line of books about a little space elf named Meno.
We spoke over video Skype with Tony face to face (and even Angela-- face to... well, we saw her hand) about books, movies, toys, and imagination. Thanks Tony (and Angela!) for your time and insights!
Thanks to Gracie for the portrait of Mr. DiTerlizzi...
Dad: Before sharing an interview, we like to quickly highlight at least one of the author's books. Today we've chosen "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You." So guys, can you tell the readers... what is the difference between the "Spiderwick Chronicles" series, and the actual "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide" book?
Gracie (age 9): This book tells you facts and shows you pictures of fairies and things. The series is about what happens to some kids when they find this book and start learning about the fairies.
Lily (age 7): You could read this book if you want to learn about all the monsters... and learn about all the things that can happen to you.
Gracie: You learn about fairies and goblins and griffins and trolls.
Isaac (age 11): This book is a bestiary.
Dad: Oo. Good word.
Isaac: That just means "dictionary of beasts."
Dad: And what do the illustrations in this book look like?
Lily: Some are sketches, and some are so realistic. They look like scientis-tic-y creatures.
Dad: And would people have to read the Spiderwick series in order to appreciate the Field Guide?
Lily: No. You can read either and you'll still be happy.
Dad: And now it's time to share our interview! Thanks, Tony, for taking some time to chat with us!
Tony DiTerlizzi: No problem -- thank you guys! So what's up?
Lily: I've got a question...
Tony DiTerlizzi: What have you got, Lily?
Lily: When did you start being an artist?
Tony DiTerlizzi: When I was a little kid. Two years old. Whenever I could start drawing. My mom still has drawings that I did.
Dad: That's just like you guys.
Tony DiTerlizzi: When I was 12 years old, I made a field guide over the summer. It was in a three ring folder on notebook paper, and it had dragons and giants and all kinds of creatures in it. I held onto it for many, many years... and that eventually developed into "Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide."
Dad: What do you guys think about that? Maybe a story you're working on right now could someday turn into a book or a movie when you grow up.
Gracie: Oh, I'm so planning on that.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Ha ha ha ha... That's great. Write your ideas down. You never know what could happen.
Gracie: I'm going to get it published...
Tony DiTerlizzi: And you're so confident too! I like that.
Dad: Confidence is not a problem we have with Gracie. She may be lacking in many things, but confidence is not one of them.
Isaac: I have a question. Did you scream like a little girl when you found out your book was being turned into a movie?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Aaaaaaahhhhhhhhh!!!!! (screaming and waving his arms)
Gracie: HA ha hah HA ha ha!
Tony DiTerlizzi: Is that what you wanted?
Tony DiTerlizzi: It was a really exciting thing. It was really awesome.
Dad: Wow -- seeing you do that scream and wave just now was really awesome.
Lily: Did you like the movie when it came out?
Tony DiTerlizzi: I loved the movie. I loved all the special effects. I thought the actors did a great job. Of course, they couldn't put everything from the books into the film.
Gracie: The three elf guys were gone.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Elves were supposed to be in the film. They were going to have actors dressed up as the elves -- you know, with rubber ears and wings. But they realized that after you'd seen all this amazing computer generated animation for the goblins and other creatures... by the time you got to the elves, it just looked like people with rubber ears. It just didn't work.
Lily: Why didn't you tell them to put the dragons in the movie?
Tony DiTerlizzi: The dragons got cut really early. They didn't want "Spiderwick" to be a dragon movie. I think there were already so many dragon movies in development. How to Train Your Dragon. Harry Potter has a big dragon. Eragon is about a dragon. I think they wanted to steer clear of any dragons.
Gracie: And what about the dwarves?
Tony DiTerlizzi: I don't know why they cut the dwarves out. I think they just simply couldn't get everything in there. But if you look really closely in the film, the goblin camp is right outside the dwarven quarry.
Tony DiTerlizzi: You can actually see the dwarves' mine in the background.
Dad: We'll have to look for that now.
Isaac: Do you own every Spiderwick toy ever made?
Tony DiTerlizzi: I don't think I have them all. I think I'm missing a couple of them.
Gracie: If they made any toys out of my dad's books, he would probably buy every single one. Even if it all in total cost 20 bucks.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Ha ha ha...
Dad: Yep, I'd put down the big money... 20 bucks...
Gracie: He loves toys. He takes all the toys he likes from us and puts them up on his shelf.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Nice. Nice.
Dad: I'd be willing to bet Mr. DiTerlizzi has a lot of toys around too.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Yes I do.
Gracie: Every single illustrator that we know so far, even dad, has at least a thousand toys all over their desks.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Hold on, I'll show you some favorites.... I've got a whole bunch of these ones...
Tony DiTerlizzi: My daughter's favorite movie.
Gracie: I love that cat bus.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Here, you guys will like this...
(Brings back a giant stuffed Cheshire Cat)
Tony DiTerlizzi: Do you recognize this guy?
Gracie: Sweet Mama.
Isaac: He's cool!
Tony DiTerlizzi: I made this back in college at art school.
Gracie: You made it!
Tony DiTerlizzi: Yeah. This is based off the original drawings that John Tenniel did for Alice in Wonderland. I made it out of foam like a Muppet.
Isaac: Which do you like better, making picture books or chapter books? Because you've done both.
Tony DiTerlizzi: That's a good question. Each one has different challenges. I feel like for really good picture books, it is better the less you say with words and the more you say with pictures. I kind of blabble on when I write, so for right now chapter books are a little easier for me to write.
Isaac: How did you think up Meno?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Angela and I have a friend who we nicknamed "Meno." If you asked him a question... like, "Did you see Toy Story this weekend?" he would say, "Me? No." So we started calling him Meno. And Angela was convinced he was an elf from outer space. From there we came up with a lot of funny stuff about what it would be like if somebody came from another planet and had to interact with characters on earth.
Lily: How did you come up with Wishi? She's awesome.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Ha ha ha ha... Wishi IS Angela. Angela's been hiding in the corner here the whole time... (Angela pokes her hand into view and waves) Wishi was inspired by Angela. And Wishi was also inspired by all the toys Angela loved as a kid... like Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite and Hello Kitty and Care Bears and all that stuff. That's Wishi.
Dad: So now when you guys see Wishi, you know that's Mrs. DiTerlizzi.
Gracie: I have a question for Mrs. DiTerlizzi.
Tony DiTerlizzi: She's here.
Gracie: Do you ever help him with his books? Besides writing the Meno books, do you ever say "Oh, I think this should be like this instead of doing it like that"?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Ha ha ha...
Angela DiTerlizzi: Every day.
Tony DiTerlizzi: It's the story of my life.
(laughter from all)
Angela DiTerlizzi: I've been standing right here, haven't I?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Angela gives me a lot of input. She's the first person I go to for feedback. She's been with me since before I made kids' books. So she knows how long I've wanted to do this.
Dad: And before we wrap up, I have a question. Is there something that draws you to writing about fantastical creatures? Whether it's Ted, or the Grimble Grinder, or Spiderwick beasties, or Grahame the dragon...
Tony DiTerlizzi: I was just an imaginative kid. Imagination is so important, and I want to make sure all my books encourage that kind of thinking. That's what got us across the ocean to find America... it's what got us on the moon... I want all my books to have an imaginative element.
Gracie: I'm making a book right now with imagination in it. It's about this girl who finds out she is an alien princess, and she has to find this magic box in order to save her planet...
Tony DiTerlizzi: (picks up a pencil and pretends to take notes...) Uh-huh... That's great... You don't say...
Dad: Look he's stealing your ideas!
Gracie: Hey! Hee hee hee!
Tony DiTerlizzi: Ha ha ha...
Dad: Well, what would you guys like to say?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Thank-you guys so much! I have one last question for you guys.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Who is your favorite author and illustrator? Ha ha ha!
Gracie: You! And Adam Rex.
Tony DiTerlizzi: I've known Adam a long time. He's a very good artist.
Gracie: And Daddy.
Dad: Hmm... I see they mentioned your name long before mine... I don't know what that means.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Sorry about that, ha ha ha...
Gracie: It's a three way tie.
Tony DiTerlizzi: We'll have to settle it with our fists.
Dad: Maybe we can wrestle someday.
Illustrator: Tony DiTerlizzi
Co-Creator: Holly Black
"Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide" published 2005: Simon&Schuster
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