Angela DiTerlizzi is the author of picture books such as The Magical Yet, Some Bugs, and Just Add Glitter, among others. Tony DiTerlizzi is the creator of picture books such as the Caldecott Honor-winning The Spider and the Fly and middle grade fantasies Kenny & the Dragon, the WondLa trilogy, and the Spiderwick Chronicles (with Holly Black). The couple’s first picture book collaboration, A Very Cranky Book, is a metafictional comedy about an ornery book. We asked the couple to discuss their creative partnership and the importance of humor in their life and work.
Angela DiTerlizzi: In our 30 years together, you’ve been making picture books for over 20, and I’ve been doing the same for more than 10. It’s hard to believe it’s taken us this long to officially collaborate on one, but finally, here we are with A Very Cranky Book.
Tony DiTerlizzi: Yes, but you have been influential on almost everything I have worked on throughout my career—from my early days illustrating for Dungeons & Dragons to helping me and Holly with The Spiderwick Chronicles. Now, at last, we have Cranky!
Angela: It’s true. I always have opinions that I’m more than happy to offer, and you’ve always been so open to input and feedback, not just in work, but in all aspects of our lives: careers, parenting, and marriage. It’s made our life together such an amazing, creative, and rewarding collaboration.
Tony: It is, especially as parents. To be honest, it isn’t always easy to receive feedback when it’s of the creative nature. Writing and picture-making, like any art form, is subjective. There is no “right” or “wrong” way. But Ang, 99% of the time, your instincts have been spot-on. And I believe your instincts will prove to be spot-on with A Very Cranky Book.
Angela: Thanks for that, T. But to be honest, your art wasn’t what I was originally picturing for this manuscript.
Tony: Wait! What?
Angela: Okay, I know that sounds silly, but your work is so beautifully detailed, and I pictured a more graphic style of art to easily convey the raw emotion of being, well… cranky. But now, after many sketches and kitchen table conversations, I can’t imagine Cranky any other way. You brought him, his friends, and his world to life in such a wonderful way, and it’s been so exciting to see you out of your comfort zone, creating these emotionally complex yet deceptively simple illustrations.
Tony: What you know, that many may not, is that I can render in all manner of mediums and styles. For this, you pushed me into a different direction than I would have thought when you suggested drawing features on photographs of actual books. That representation of Cranky felt spot-on with your story because it brought to mind beloved characters from a Pixar film.
Angela: Awww, thanks. I can see that connection. In Toy Story, toys have feelings, in Finding Nemo, fish have feelings, in Inside Out, feelings have feelings. Cranky was born from a similar premise. One afternoon, when I was feeling a little cranky myself, I looked at my bookshelf and thought, “What if books have feelings?” That question became my launchpad for a story about difficult emotions and acknowledging that it’s OK to not always feel happy.
Tony: I think that premise is a universal and unique entry point in a story for young readers, and that is a rare find. I was excited from the moment you shared the idea with me. I remember I started sketching out ideas right away. That was during the height of the pandemic, when many of us were overloaded with all sorts of emotions, including crankiness.
Angela: Oh, absolutely. A lot of crankiness, but also a yearning for laughter. At that time, I needed to tell a story that made me laugh and smile, and as we created this book, I did a lot of both.
Tony: Me too. Laughter is what brought us together. It’s the constant in our life, even when the world outside seems dire. So, if we can create a moment in which laughter can be shared in the pages of our books, not only can it be a happy moment of reading, but perhaps a lifelong memory.
Angela: You got it, T. Humor, heart, and empathy. I think we all need those things now more than ever.
Tony: You’re so right, Ang.
Angela: I know. Well, at least 99% of the time. Ha!
A Very Cranky Book by Angela and Tony DiTerlizzi. Quill Tree, $19.99 Sept. 19 ISBN 978-0-06-320667-0