Angela DiTerlizzi is a lot like her book Some Bugs – colorful, interesting and a whole lot of fun. And let’s face it, you would have to be all of those things if your dream in high school was to become a makeup artist on Saturday Night Live.
Born in Chicago, Angela attended six schools by the time she was in sixth grade, making it difficult for her teachers to spot her difficulty with reading comprehension. A reluctant reader during a time when books like Diary of a Wimpy Kid didn’t exist, Angela would sneak Beatrix Potter’s books out of the library because they were easy to read and because they were “beautiful little books.” Without Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Angela read Archie comics, but pointed out “You can’t do a book report on Archie comics.” She said that what she admires about books for today’s young readers is that they have “characters that seem real and that have to struggle.” Two current books that she is especially fond of are Smile by Raina Telgemeier and El Deafo by Cece Bell. When asked if she had any stories for young kids involving struggle she said yes, but that her writing depends heavily on rhyme and that she hasn’t found a way to write them yet.
At the age of twelve, Angela moved to Jupiter, Florida, where she participated in high school, college and local theater and discovered that she loved being a make – up artist. After she met her future husband, Tony DiTerlizzi, in Jupiter, they decided to move to New York so that he could become a children’s author and illustrator, and that she could land a gig on Saturday Night Live. She was successful, doing makeup for SNL, and also for other famous clients including Will Ferrell, journalists on The Today Show and President Clinton. One not–so–famous client was an editor at Scholastic. One day she told the client that her husband was a children’s author and illustrator and the client gave her a business card, “probably just to get her to stop talking.” At the end of the first visit with the Scholastic editor, Tony had a book deal.
About 12 years ago they decided to move to Amherst where Tony could write and she could commute to the city for special makeup jobs. But, that plan was soon upended when Tony won a 2003 Caldecott Honor for The Spider and the Fly. Angela said that it was an exciting, busy time, and that she became Tony’s manager arranging interviews and travel schedules. She also said that western Massachusetts is a lot farther from New York than it looks on a map, and soon the trips tapered off.
The tapering off of her makeup artist career was a very fortunate turn of events for young readers since it gave Angela time to launch her own writing career. I asked if she had ever had writing in mind and she said that it was after the birth of their daughter that she was able to take the time to hear the stories that she had within her and to listen to her daughter tell her own stories. We talked for a while about the ability of little children to live in the land of make–believe and that it still surprised me when a first grader would say, very seriously, that he saw a dragon emerge out of the sewer on the way to school. Angela said that she sees this with her own daughter who said that she wanted to be a unicorn trainer unless they went to England and then she would be a horse trainer. She went on to say that, “fantasy lets you believe that you can do what you want to do.”
One of the things that I noticed about Angela’s books is that the text is very simple, and that it was the combination of text and words that made the books so vibrant. I knew from children’s literature classes that often the author isn’t consulted about the illustrator, so I asked how much input she had on the illustrator. She said that she has been very fortunate in that she has been able to choose the illustrators and that she often has a specific illustrator in mind when she is writing. For instance, she chose Joey Chou for her story Say What?, because his illustrations reminded her of Mary Blair’s illustrations, especially in Ruth Krauss’ book I Can Fly. For Angela’s book, Some Bugs, she chose Brendan Wenzel because she had seen a piece of his artwork and loved it. Wenzel sent back three samples and Angela and her editor thought they were perfect. Her editor commented that the illustrations looked like “Eric Carle and Leo Lionni had a baby.” Angela chose illustrator Brooke Boynton Hughes’ sweet illustrations for her soon–to–be released book Baby Love which will be released on April 14. And I believe I heard her mention a follow – up book to Say What? so we have more to look forward to from Angela in the future.
And of course, the most important piece of information to a librarian is “what and when did she start reading to her daughter?” The answer, unsurprisingly, was The Very Hungry Caterpillar on the day she was born.
Melissa Legg is a school library teacher at Freedman Elementary School and Pottenger Elementary School in Springfield