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Five questions for Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

Sisters Kate and M. Sarah Klise created their first book together before either of them turned twelve! Since then, author Kate and illustrator Sarah have collaborated on many picture books and intermediate novels — all of which are seriously funny. Their newest picture book, Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List (Feiwel, 5–8 years), sparkles with their characteristic warm humor, but also tugs at heartstrings as Astrid and her best friend, sheepdog Eli, cope with Eli’s advancing age. The book is all the more bittersweet as the sisters’ mother passed away while they were working on the project.

1. Is Eli based on a real dog?

KK: Yes! I spent the month of August 2015 serving as writer-in-residence for the Ames Free Library in North Easton, Massachusetts. I got to know a retired teacher named Ed Hands who was spending the summer completing a bucket list he’d made for his old dog. It was such a sweet idea, I couldn’t help stealing it. I turned Ed into a young girl named Astrid and his little dog became a big dog named Eli.

2. A “dead dog” storyline in a book or film is notoriously a hard sell for many people. What made you decide to take on this daunting subject?

KK: Let the record reflect: no dog dies in this story. But I know what you mean. The inevitability of death is in the air. The weird thing is, while this story was inspired by a teacher and his dog, as Sarah and I were finishing this project last year, our mother passed away unexpectedly. So now when I read this book, I think of her.

MSK: Me too. We almost changed the dedication at the last minute, but didn’t. Mom was always more of a cat person. Plus, we need to do a different book about her. She and our dad are the reasons we do what we do.

3. What’s your collaboration process like?

MSK: When we started, we did a lot of the work by good old-fashioned letters. Now it’s mostly email. Kate usually gets the ball rolling. She’ll write, “I’m thinking about a picture book where a girl has a best friend who’s a dog, but the dog is getting old. What do you think?” And I almost always think, I like it, I like it. Kate sends me text files. I send her Photoshop attachments. This time, we also exchanged a lot of hilarious YouTube videos of shaggy dogs riding on the backs of bikes.

KK: After I finished the first draft of this manuscript, I became convinced that the dog had to be a sheepdog, which really isn’t my call. The illustrator should decide that, but I just really, really wanted a sheepdog. So I emailed Sarah and tried to gently plant the idea of making Eli a sheepdog. Less than a minute later, Sarah sent back her working sketch of the dog. Of course, he was a sheepdog in her mind, too.

4. There are so many sweet dog-themed details to discover in the illustrations: LASSIE on the marquee at the movie theater, Astrid’s dog-print dress, the framed portraits of girl and dog alike in places of pride. Do you have a favorite?

MSK: Aw, thanks for noticing. That’s part of my job, though, to insert those little extra tidbits. I am always a fan of walls cluttered with family pictures, so you tend to see those in every book we do. Toss in a dog or a cat, and a few piles of books, and that is my picture-book art trifecta.

5. What is the most important thing pets teach us?

MSK: I think the nonverbal part is the key. We have a puppy and a cat at our house. With few words, we learn their secret language and they learn ours. To do that, pet and person have to develop a way to communicate that is pretty much made up between the two. Drawing works the same way. It’s creating a secret and personal form of communication. It might be why I have always been drawn (ha!) to animals.

KK: I’m often drawn to darker subjects. There’s a lot of awful stuff in literature — and in life. Every day I read the paper and think how much I’d love certain people to just go away. But the flipside is that much of life is really good and sweet and tender and true. That’s another thing pets teach us. That, and the importance of holding on to those good things in life. Back to our mom: I think back to all the conversations when I tried to convince her to come with me on school visits to Tokyo or Savannah or Chicago. Sometimes she did. She was always up for an adventure. But what she loved most was just having us home and sitting on the front porch, watching people pass by on the street in Peoria, Illinois, where she lived her entire life. Our mom really wrote the book on how to stay.

From the July 2017 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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Comments

  1. Paul Johns says:

    I can’t wait to read the book. Kate and Sarah always do a wonderful job.

  2. I’m a big fan of their work. After reading this interview, it made me like them as people more. I was sorry to hear of the recent loss of their mother.

  3. Cathy O'Connell-Nevin says:

    Amazing sisters and women I was fortunate to call friends at Marquette University. I had the privilege to watch their literary journey unfold . In school, I watched them read letters from each other. Today, I watch the writing as legend and am challenged to choose which is more gratifying. The book is a must read and their literary history must be known if not for you for your children. Cathy

  4. Bonnie Bernstein says:

    Loved meeting the Klise sisters when they did a school visit where I was teaching in chagrin Falls, Ohio. Their books are the best! And the kids love them. Can’t wait to read the new book!

  5. Therese Mahrt Miller says:

    I can’t wait to read this book to my kindergarten class! Loved the interview with the sisters.
    Sorry to hear about your mom…nobody loves us like our mom’s!

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