Tony DiTerlizzi hopes you like his story premise as much as he does: Young female protagonist leaves her comfortable world and goes on an adventure in a fantastical wonderland.
Could be “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” “Peter and Wendy” or “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” right?
Those are DiTerlizzi’s favorite children’s stories — back when he was a youngster and to this day. And that’s where he started when he first imagined his middle-school trilogy, “WondLa.”
From there, though, the Caldecott Medal winner and co-author and illustrator of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” took a science-fiction curve, creating from scratch a fantastically futuristic world of unknown flora, fauna, language and technology.
DiTerlizzi comes to Kansas City on Wednesday to talk about his world of “WondLa” at Reading Reptile in Brookside. Just published is the trilogy’s third book, “The Battle for WondLa.” A film adaptation is in the works.
The young female protagonist is 12-year-old Eva Nine. She lives in an underground bunker and her mother is Muthr, a nurturing robot. When their sanctuary is destroyed, Eva is forced to the surface, a place she’s never been.
Instead of falling down the rabbit hole, DiTerlizzi points out, Eva is sort of thrust up one. Searching for other humans on her planet, Orbona, Eva confronts much that is alien, things even Muthr couldn’t teach her.
The glossary in the back of the third book shows how alien this world is: 11 pages with more than 100 entries, all peculiar to WondLa. A map, a chart of the Orbonian alphabet and, throughout the book, DiTerlizzi’s illustrations, help guide readers.
“I read a lot of fantasy and grew up on ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek,’ DiTerlizzi says. “I loved going to Middle Earth. ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ was a huge influence.”
In fact, DiTerlizzi, 44, was an illustrator for “Dungeons & Dragons” and in the games industry in the 1990s. But he long wanted to create children’s books. He teamed with writer Holly Black on “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” the much-heralded book series that began in 2003.
Two events — turning 40 and the birth of his daughter, Sophia, who is 6 now — helped propel him to create “WondLa.” Ideas for the story had been on his mind and in his sketchbook for 10 years.
“I wanted to tell something more poignant,” says DiTerlizzi, who lives in Amherst, Mass. “This is probably the purest and truest story I’ve told.”
Besides her encounters with evil creatures and an extraordinary ecosystem, Eva’s search ultimately is about family and home — and discovering their meaning, DiTerlizzi says. Unlike the three classic stories he loves, though, in this one Eva can’t go back to what she knew as home.
That’s frightening, he acknowledges, as is Eva’s trek at times, a journey that includes loss and death.
“If you want the beautiful moments to shine, you have to contrast that with dark and gruesome moments,” he says. “That’s the way life is.”
After 12 years underground, Eva’s adventure is full of discovery, as it was for DiTerlizzi. The planet he created is “rebooting,” he says, and he wanted it populated by interesting animals but also fascinating plant life.
A favorite are his wandering trees, which come together in whole wandering forests as they crawl about on their roots hunting for water sources.
And “giant water bears,” which he fashioned after real-life water bears, or tardigrades. They’re microscopic, eight-legged extremophiles, able to live in severe environments and go many years without food or water, then rehydrate and reproduce again.
“But they’re tiny, so I dinosaured them, blew them up,” DiTerlizzi says.
“I got to think about what the 10-year-old version of me would want that the 40-year-old version of me can now make.”