Tony has been publishing children’s books for over twenty years, but he has been writing stories and illustrating for much longer. In the 1970s, Tony grew up in a Florida town called Jupiter. “After the planet!” Tony says. “It was a small beach town, dirt roads, lots of fishing, snorkeling, catching snakes and lizards. And I probably had one of the biggest insect collections in my neighborhood.”
Growing up around nature inspired Tony to draw and write stories about the insects and birds that he saw in his backyard. One of his earliest books was a pocket field guide to insects, made using only an encyclopedia and spiral-bound index cards. He also wrote a story about dinosaurs in North America using parchment paper his mom purchased for him. Some of the stories and drawings Tony made as a kid inspired the books we know and love today. The pocket field guide on insects became the inspiration for Arthur Spiderwick’s field guide in The Spiderwick Chronicles!
Tony realized he wanted to be a children’s book author in high school. With the encouragement of his art teacher, Mr. Thomas Wetzel, and after a conversation between Tony and his younger brother Adam, Tony began redesigning and illustrating the characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He spent the entire semester drawing his own versions of characters such as the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat, and when it was done, he and Mr. Wetzel bound it into a little book. Tony says, “I knew from then on I wanted to illustrate books, maybe even create books for children. It took me a while to get there, but at seventeen I knew what I wanted to do.” (You can hear more about this below in Clip 1.)
After high school, Tony attended the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale to study graphic design. Upon graduation in 1992, Tony moved back home with his parents while he was looking for illustrator jobs. Some of his friends also moved back home, and they started to get together and talk about things they loved doing as children. That’s when they started playing Dungeons & Dragons together, just as they did when they were kids. Tony's friends urged him to start sketching some of the Dungeons & Dragons characters for their game. By that fall, he scored his first freelance job illustrating for Dungeons & Dragons. (You can hear more about this below in Clip 2.)
By the time Tony published his first children’s book in 2000, (Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-world Moon Pie Adventure, a story about a boy named Jimmy who builds a spaceship so he can travel to the moon for his favorite snack), he lived in Brooklyn with his wife, makeup artist Angela DiTerlizzi. In late 2002, Angela and Tony moved to Amherst, Massachusetts. Tony credits their move to Amherst in part because of the area’s rich literary history, which includes children’s book authors Norton Juster, Jane Yolan, and Eric Carle. Angela and Tony first heard about the Eric Carle Museum when they lived in Brooklyn. Tony says, “That was exciting to us, that a town would celebrate children’s books enough to build a museum. That seemed like the place we wanted to be.”
Angela and Tony hadn’t even unpacked their new home before Tony went on the road to promote his third children’s book, The Spider and the Fly. When Tony came back home to Amherst, he and author Holly Black immediately began work on The Spiderwick Chronicles, a book series that starts when siblings Jared, Simon, and Mallory Grace find a field guide to another world in the attic of their new house. “We placed [the story] in Maine, but the house itself was inspired by a couple of houses, one in Greenfield and another in Northampton,” Tony says. “I would take walks and hikes on the rail trail and think about the creatures that would inhabit the Spiderwick stories. And so it’s steeped in Amherst and Northampton, right through its very core…I don’t think The Spiderwick Chronicles would be what they were if I wasn’t living in Amherst.”
Tony worked on The Spiderwick Chronicles with fantasy author Holly Black, who eventually moved to Amherst as well. Among Tony’s other collaborators is his wife, Angela, who published her first children’s book in 2013. “Angela and I collaborate on just about everything,” Tony says. “Even if only one of our names is on the cover of the book.” Their first published collaboration came out in 2023, entitled A Very Cranky Book, a story about how to handle being cranky and knowing that even when we’re cranky, we’re still loved. (You can hear more about Tony's collaboration with Holly Black below in Clip 3.)
Tony’s other accomplishments include Ted, The Tales of Kenny Rabbit, and The Wondla Trilogy. The Spiderwick Chronicles was adapted into a film in 2008, and Tony also helped create a Star Wars picture book with Lucasfilm and illustrator Ralph McQuarrie, called Star Wars: The Adventures of Luke Skywalker, Jedi Knight. Tony and Angela still live in Amherst with their daughter Sophia, where they love to go to the Archive, walk on the rail trail, and visit Groff Park. You can visit Tony’s website here.