Interview with Kate & M. Sarah Klise, creators of Imagine Harry

Q:Your newest picture book, Imagine Harry, is about a young rabbit and his imaginary friend. Did either of you have an imaginary friend when you were growing up?

M. Sarah Klise: I didn’t, but Kate did. His name was Charlie, and he was part of our family for a while.

Kate Klise: It was the year Sarah went to kindergarten. I must’ve been four years old. I guess I was feeling a bit lonely. Charlie lived in my left wrist. He turned out to be a great pal. We spent the year listening to records in the living room and roller-skating in the basement while my mom ironed. She was always good about giving me an extra graham cracker for Charlie.

Q:What happened to Charlie?

KK: On my first day of kindergarten, Charlie was hit by a truck and died.

MSK: Poor Charlie.

KK: He’s gone but not forgotten.

Q:How long have you two been working together?

MSK: Well, it really began back when I was about eleven years old and Kate was ten. We created a book about a mouse to give as a Christmas present to our older sister, Molly; Kate wrote it and I supplied the illustrations. We also collaborated on a few book reports and school papers here and there.

KK: We always shared a bedroom, so working together on school projects was natural. I think Sarah couldn’t bear to see the drawings I made for my book report covers, so she took those over for me. In exchange, I wrote a few short stories for her in high school.

Q:Do you create stories as a team from the get-go? Or does one of you usually first draft each story solo?

KK: We’re always talking about the next project. Creating a book takes a long time, so it’s important that we’re both excited about the project. Once we figure out what we want to do—whether it’s a picture book, another installment in the Regarding the . . . series, or something entirely different—I generally write the text first. Once I’m four or five drafts in, I’ll e-mail it to Sarah to get her thoughts.

Q:Sarah, you are older than Kate by a year. Does that mean you get the final say when there’s a disagreement about the direction of a project?

MSK: Well, of course! Older, wiser, prettier, and . . . No, really, even when there are disagreements—and sometimes there are—we both stop and remember that we are trying to make the best book that we can. Because I usually design the books, we have to be in close contact throughout the entire process. We work page by page; when something doesn’t work, I call or e-mail Kate and tell her to cut text. She usually then asks if I can reduce the size of the illustration to make it fit, and I respond: No!

KK: And then I do what she tells me to do. Text is always easier to edit than illustration.

Q:Do you think being sisters makes it easier or harder to work together?

MSK: Definitely easier. Like Kate said, we grew up sharing a bedroom, so when our mom read to us at night, we heard the same stories. As a result, our taste in books is very similar.

KK: Plus, we communicate in a kind of shorthand that nobody else could possibly understand.

Q:Your books have a strong sense of playfulness, if not outright humor. Was that something you liked in the books you read as children?

KK: Oh yeah. I loved the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Amelia Bedelia books. I love characters who are funny and vaguely subversive. But my real love is a book that can make me laugh and cry, like Charlotte’s Web.

Q:Which writers and artists have inspired you creatively?

KK: Well, of course, E. B. White is the master. Nobody can top his jewel-like sentences and the tenderness of his stories.

MSK: My favorite illustrators are William Pène du Bois and Garth Williams. I spent countless hours as a kid looking at The Twenty-One Balloons and Stuart Little, trying to figure out how those artists drew so beautifully.

Q:All of your picture books star Little Rabbit, a cuddly bunny who will be featured in another new tale next year, Little Rabbit and the Night Mare. Where did this hare come from?

KK: Little Rabbit was born from sketches Sarah drew a few years ago when we were working on one of the books in the Regarding the . . . series. She sent me some of those sketches and asked if I thought I could write a story about them. Who couldn’t have? They were so adorable and evocative. The nice thing about stories with rabbits is that children really relate to them—rabbits are both small and defenseless; they have no money or power; and they’re just trying to figure out life, bit by bit, problem by problem.

Q:Do you two have more adventures in store for Little Rabbit? And what about your popular middle grade Regarding the . . . series? Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

MSK: Regarding the Bees: A Lesson, in Letters, on Honey, Dating, and Other Sticky Subjects will be out in August (2007). We take on some fun targets in this one, like standardized tests and middle school “dating.” We’re also working on a new Little Rabbit picture book and another graphic series. But Kate doesn’t like to talk about our works-in-progress. She’s a bit superstitious.

KK: I just don’t want anyone getting hit by a truck.

MSK: You’re still feeling bad about Charlie?

KK: Well, yeah, of course. That’s one ending I’d rewrite if I could. I’d like to think there’s an island somewhere for imaginary friends—a little island nation where they go when they’re no longer needed.