Crank(y) It Up! A Very Cranky Book Interview with Angela and Tony DiTerlizzi
Who are the great cranky characters of children’s literature that come immediately to mind? The Pigeon certainly has cranky moments (albeit usually just when he doesn’t get his way). Would you call Grover from The Monster at the End of This Book cranky? He isn’t inherently so, but forces beyond his control corral him in that direction. These are just situational cranksters, though. Who is cranky from page one onward? Who embodies that petulant, no-filled, preschooler that we’ve all either known or been at some point in our lives?
Meet a book. A cranky book. A very cranky book. Or, as its publisher would describe it:
“Are you ready to meet the world’s crankiest book?
Cranky doesn’t want to be read. He just wants you to leave him alone. After all, there are so many other things you can do—ride a bike, play a game, or draw a picture. There’s no reason for you to be bothering him! But when other books show up for story time, will Cranky change his mind?Angela and Tony DiTerlizzi, two creative forces, have crafted a story as silly as it is clever.”
We’ve all been there. And now, today, I’ve the distinct pleasure of speaking with its creators. Fresh off of finding out that his Spiderwick Chronicles TV show has been picked up by Roku, we have author/illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi. And with a multitude of picture books to her name, he’s joined by author Angela DiTerlizzi. Yep! We’re doing an old-fashioned married couple interview today. Just like grandma used to make.
Betsy Bird: Angela! Tony! Thanks so much for talking some cranky with me today. So let’s get down to it. I look at this new hero and I think to myself that he’s like a bibliophiled Oscar the Grouch. And Angela, let’s talk about writing a book of this sort. This is the first book of yours that I’ve seen that breaks down the fourth wall. What intrigued you about writing a book of this sort?
Angela DiTerlizzi: I’m a deeply empathic person, often thinking (or overthinking) my own thoughts, and the thoughts of others. With every picture book that I write, I try to give myself the space to sink into those feelings and emotions. I remember sitting at my desk one day, looking over at the bookshelf, and wondering “What if books had feelings?” What would that book say to the reader?” I realized that I had a spark of an idea for a story about a book that did not want to be read.
BB: Tony, first off, love the Roy Kent eyebrows on this guy. I was also really interested in the color palette you’re utilizing here. It starts off with a lot of blues and yellows and though it deviates from that a little, that’s really the guiding colors for the whole shebang. When you start work on a picture book, how do you settle on the right color scheme for the book as a whole?
Tony DiTerlizzi: Thank you! You mentioned Oscar the Grouch earlier and you are spot on with Cranky’s eyebrows. Jim Henson’s Muppets have remained a constant source of inspiration for me since I first watched Sesame Street as a child, and that remains true for this book. Angela has an amazing sense of color. I often have her look at my various projects to get her input on the color schemes. When I first sketched Cranky, I assumed he would be a red, angry book, but Ang was quick to point out that he wasn’t angry, he was cranky, which is a more subtle emotion. We tried a few different colors but quickly settled on the blue. From there, we determined what other colors would complement Cranky for the additional characters.
Fun fact: Scary’s colors were inspired by the classic colors of the original titling for the Goosebumps books. The background was designed to add a setting, like a stage, for the characters. We kept those colors muted so as not to compete with Cranky and company. I don’t always know the color scheme of a book when I start out. Some stories seem obvious: black and white for The Spider and the Fly or earth tones for The Spiderwick Chronicles, but others take time. One I understand the theme of the book I figure out how best to convey that in color and medium.
BB: Angela, of course one of the great lures of this story is that it could be ideal for storytimes. When writing a good readaloud book do you ever test it out on anyone? Tony? Kids? Your pets? What’s your process with a readaloud?
AD: I was a theater kid, and I grew up with a passion for music and musicals. Most of the books I’ve written have been in rhyme, and I hear them like songs, but Cranky was different. He seemed more like a character in a play. As I wrote his dialogue, I would read it aloud to Tony every morning over coffee. I put on a super cranky voice and that’s when he was brought to life. This is a book that’s meant to be performed just as much as it’s meant to be read. (No acting classes needed though.)
BB: Tony, you’re also using a fair amount of mixed media in here. Not a ton, but enough to sit up and take notice. Did you know you’d be integrating photographs and the like into the final product when you started out or did that become apparent as you made the book?
TD: Using photographs of actual books was how Ang envisioned this from the start and that was an aspect about this project that I was very excited about. I love a challenge and the challenge of taking a photo of a static object, like a book, and creating the illusion of a living character that can act and convey emotion was one I was eager to take on.
BB: I’d love to find out a little about what your particular collaborative process looks like: How much give and take is there? Do you take notes from one another? Suggestions? Or is it all entirely separate? I know that as a general rule editors like to keep authors and illustrators apart, but that probably was a bit difficult with you two being married and all.
TD: We collaborate on almost everything. At some point, our separate book projects are
shared with one another for input and feedback. Because we both know we have our
best interests in mind and will be brutally honest with our opinions.
AD: Exactly what Tony said. I always appreciate his valuable feedback, thoughtful edits, and artistic expertise. If we disagree on something, we discuss the options, defend our points of view, and often discover a third option that is a mash-up of both our ideas.
TD: For this book, we tacked up all the rough sketches of the page spreads on a large bulletin board, so we could see the entire arc of the story. We asked ourselves: Why do kids, or adults, get cranky? And, as parents, how do we handle a cranky child? We realized that we don’t always know why we get cranky; however, knowing that someone loves you and is there for you while you work through difficult emotions, like crankiness, is both reassuring and bonding. That realization helped define the end of the story. It became something more profound than just a bunch of gags pestering a cranky old book.
BB: Finally, I have to ask it. What are you two working on next (separately and together)?
AD: I’m super excited to be working on some additional books in The Magical Yet series, with illustrator Lorena Alvarez Gomez. The Curious Why will be on shelves in May, and I’m currently writing away on the third book, The Marvelous Now.
TD: I have been quite involved with the production of the WondLa animated television series, which is coming to Apple TV+ next year. During that process, I’ve learned so much about storytelling and I am excited to apply that knowledge to the new middle grade novel I’m currently developing.
Together, I’d say the biggest project we are working on is supporting and spending times with our teenage daughter during her final years of high school.
AD: And letting her know we love her, even when she’s being cranky.
You see how Angela did that? How she ended the interview on that perfect note. That’s class, people. That’s how you do it.
Many thanks to Angela and Tony for answering my questions today and to Kristina Pisciotta for setting this interview up in the first place! A Very Cranky Book is on library and bookstore shelves everywhere so be sure to go out and grab yourself a cranky little copy. It’ll do you a world of good.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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