Dragons, space monsters, goblins and insects: the characters that inhabit storyteller Tony DiTerlizzi’s world haven’t changed since he was a kid growing up in South Florida.
Born in Los Angeles, California in 1969, DiTerlizzi is the oldest of three siblings raised in an artistically rich household. He started drawing at a very young age including a crayon mural of Winnie-the-Pooh on his freshly painted bedroom walls.
One of his first hand-made books was on his favorite subject; dinosaurs, and was done for a Boy Scout merit badge. Fascinated by nature’s endless designs, Tony made another book, this time on insects, carefully drawn from his own collection.
In 1981, after seeing Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and playing Dungeons & Dragons, the 12 year-old Tony spent the summer writing and illustrating an entire field guide on fantastic creatures. He would return to this premise many years later as the genesis for The Spiderwick Chronicles.
By the time he graduated high school, DiTerlizzi had dreams of becoming a children’s book creator. He attended several art schools including, Florida School of the Arts and the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, receiving his degree in graphic design in 1992.
After graduating, the 23 year-old DiTerlizzi began working freelance for TSR, publisher of Dungeons & Dragons - the game that had inspired him so much as a child. He illustrated many fantastical images of warriors, wizards and monsters over the next 6 years, and also contributed to the collectible card game Magic the Gathering.
A move to New York City in 1996 brought Tony to the center of the publishing world. At last, his dream of writing and illustrating outstanding imaginative books for children could be realized. And he did it at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.
In 2000, his first picture book, Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-World Moon Pie Adventure debuted. Inspired by Windsor McKay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland and Norman Rockwell, the story of a young space adventurer in search of his favorite snack garnered positive reviews. Kirkus compared Tony’s work to that of David Wiesner and William Joyce. More importantly, children loved the book.
The next year, he followed up with Ted, the story of a workaholic single parent trying to find time for his son and his mischievous imaginary friend. Once again, the book was well received, and it won several state awards including the University of Chicago’s Zena Sutherland Book Award.
His third picture book, The Spider and The Fly, was based on Mary Howitt’s famous 1829 poem. Here, DiTerlizzi exhibited his love of insects and arachnids as he rendered Chaz Addams-esque paintings of the intrepid spider and the guileless fly. The result was a critically acclaimed, New York Times bestseller. It won a Caldecott Honor, an award for high artistic achievement in children’s publishing, in 2003. Tony’s career as a creator of children’s books was on its way.
During a magazine interview on his work for Dungeons & Dragons, DiTerlizzi met up-and-coming writer Holly Black. A fellow fantasy and folklore lover, the two became fast friends and Tony showed her sketches he was working on for a field guide to fantastic creatures. Black began helping him, and the two created the chapter book series The Spiderwick Chronicles.
Spiderwick followed the adventures of three New England children who unearth an old John James Audubon-styled field guide to fairies, trolls and goblins. No sooner do they find the tome, they then discover that all of its subjects are real and want the book. The Spiderwick Chronicles are loved by children and adults alike, and was published in over 30 countries, selling over 6 million copies in the US alone.
Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies released a live action adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles in 2008 starring Freddie Highmore, Mary Louise-Parker and Nick Nolte.
The film was well received by critics and the public alike, remaining in the top 3 at the box office for a number of weeks.
In 2006, Tony took a break from Spiderwick, returning to the picture book format with his nonsense alphabet book, G is For One Gzonk! Next, he and Holly continued the Spiderwick saga in the new series, Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles. The latest Spiderwick story arc follows a new set of kids dealing with giants, mermaids and nixies in the hot, humid tropics of South Florida.
DiTerlizzi’s latest project, Kenny and The Dragon, exhibits the creator’s debut as a chapter book writer. Inspired by The Reluctant Dragon, it tells the story of a young, bookish rabbit who becomes friends with a happy-go-lucky drake. As the two become best friends, the king orders the town dragon-slayer to execute the beast – and it is up to the rabbit, Kenny, to stop him.
“I think a story like this still has significance today as it did when Kenneth Grahame first told it over a century ago,” Tony says, “As a society we still judge and act first, then think about the consequences afterwards.”
Tony continues to work on new stories for children with his wife and daughter in Amherst, Massachusetts.