Open book with Angela DiTerlizzi
When Angela DiTerlizzi was writing her 10th children's book "The Magical Yet," she didn't know then how important the concept of "yet" would be today.
"I had no idea we'd be in a place where we can't see our friends, yet; things aren't like they used to be, yet," DiTerlizzi said during a phone interview from her Amherst home. "Yet is the best reminder there is a place beyond where we are right now. Yet gives us that hope. Parents who weren't prepared for this moment — we need to be reminded of that, in this moment."
The brightly illustrated book (with illustrations by Lorena Alvarez) starts with a young girl trying to ride her bike. As she struggles, the magical Yet appears — a whimsical floating character who rides along her journey. But the message, while certainly applicable to many children right now trying to tackle new things and growing frustrated, has a larger meaning that transcends age and experiences.
"So no matter how big (or old) you may get, you'll never outgrow — you'll never forget — you can always believe in the magic of Yet," the last page of the book reads.
"This book began as a metaphor for growth of your mindset; we can improve our abilities through hard work, and, ultimately, motivation, which we all need a bit of right now," she said.
The idea for the book came, DiTerlizzi said, when her then 9-year-old daughter (who is now almost 13 years old) was playing basketball on a team that hadn't won a single game. At the last game, she said, her daughter triumphantly made a basket, for the wrong team. During the car ride home, a pep talk was given: "You're not there yet, but you will be." In the same week, a college student who was working with DiTerlizzi and her husband, author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, as a studio assistant was growing frustrated with her inability to draw hands. The message Tony gave the student, DiTerlizzi realized, was the same.
"I realized whether you're 9, 22, or 47 — like me — we all need to be reminded the importance of 'yet,'" she said.
DiTerlizzi had to be reminded of her own "yet" again, while working on this book — a project that took two years and 10 revisions to get the rhyming stanzas just right, she said. When she was given options for possible illustrators, she was immediately excited to work with Alvarez, she said.
"She so beautifully captures a diverse cast of characters and is also able to bring beauty and the imaginative imagery this book needed," DiTerlizzi said. "... You don't look at that character and think 'That's not me.' That is really important, especially in children's books. They provide mirrors and windows into another world and to see someone else's experiences in those images that is where we begin learning empathy."
While at home with her husband, daughter and dog, during the pandemic, DiTerlizzi said she has taken up learning the ukulele, is cooking and baking a lot and also learning the new virtual ways she can still connect with children even though her seven-state book tour was shelved due to the virus.
DiTerlizzi took some time out from zooming with librarians, giving live Facebook readings and spending time with her family to answer a few questions about her favorite books.
Q. What are some of your favorite children's books?
A. Growing up, I loved Little Golden Books. Now, as an adult, these classics are literary comfort food for me. Their delightful stories and colorful, wonderful illustrations were some of my favorites as a kid, and I still return to them again and again, especially, "I Can Fly," written by Ruth Krauss and illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Mary Blair.
I also adore "Tough Boris," written by Mem Fox and illustrated by Kathryn Brown, "Go, Dog. Go!" by P.D. Eastman, "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom," written by Bill Martin, Jr., and John Archambault, and illustrated by Lois Ehlert, and, of course, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," by Eric Carle. Although, this one is reading more like an autobiography of my life right now while I'm stuck at home.
Q. What are your favorite Dr. Seuss books?
A. All of them, really. Dr. Seuss's rhythmic, rhyming masterpieces are a playground of inspiration.
I especially love "Mr.Brown Can Moo," "One fish, Two fish, Red fish, Blue fish," "Green Eggs and Ham" and "ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book."
Q. What are your favorite books with illustrations in them?
A. This is quite a difficult question, as I have so many. Of course, I have to begin with my most beloved, the Caldecott-Honor winning picture book, "The Spider and The Fly." It's based on the classic poem by Mary Howitt, and this book earned a Caldecott-Honor for the stunning, black and white, gothic illustrations created by illustrator, Tony DiTerlizzi — who just happens to be my husband.
Some other favorites include: "Pierre," by Maurice Sendak, "Where The Sidewalk Ends," by Shel Silverstein, Mo Willem's "Elephant and Piggy" books, "El Deafo," by Cece Bell, "Owl Moon," written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by John Schoenherr, and one of our all-time-household favorites, "Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse," written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes.
Q. What coming-of-age books do you remember from your childhood/early teen years?
A. As a teen, I was not a reader. In fact, I was an anti-reader. I was frustrated and overwhelmed because the pen and ink drawings of my beloved Encyclopedia Brown books were now replaced by an endless sea of text in classroom assigned novels. I couldn't understand why anyone would choose to experience the heartbreak and loss of "Where the Red Fern Grows," discuss animal experimentation in "Flowers for Algernon," or feel the brutality of gang rivalry in "The Outsiders." That said, sometimes, our most memorable books are not the ones we look back on most fondly. They can also be the ones that make us feel our emotions most deeply.
Q. Name some of your favorite female literary characters.
A. I love Hermione, Fancy Nancy, Matilda, Ramona Quimby, Pippi Longstocking, and Katniss, just to name a few.
Q. What's the best book you've read recently that you've recommended to everyone you know?
A. "All the World" is a beautiful, rhyming, poetic picture book written by Liz Garton Scanlon and intricately illustrated by Marla Frazee. This book so thoughtfully shows the connection between all things, from the smallest shell to the most lavish landscapes. It's a touchstone work filled with love, life, joy, nature, and connection — exactly what we need most night now.
Q. What books are currently on your nightstand?
A. Concentrating on large novels has always been a challenge for me, so I'm often drawn to light reads, autobiographies, graphic novels and of course, picture books. This always makes for quite an eclectic mix on my nightstand.
So, first up, "Pretty Mess," an autobiography written by reality show vixen, Erica Jayne. What can I say? I'm a huge Real Housewives fan.
I also have a copy of "New Kid," by Jerry Craft that I'm eager to dig into. "New Kid" was the first graphic novel to ever receive the 2020 Newbery Medal, the prize for the most outstanding contribution to children's literature.
I also keep a copy of "The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy," close by. This National Book Award-winning book written by Jeanne Birdsall is a charming, funny and delightful celebration of childhood. It's a story about new adventures, discovery and friendship, and it's the perfect place to return to again and again.
Last but not least, is a tattered copy of "Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You," by the incomparable Dolly Parton. She always reminds me, "You'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try."
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