Much like Carole Lexa Schaefer and Pierr Morgan’s storied collaboration and friendship, this dynamic author-illustrator duo’s latest effort, Who's There?, was literally years in the making. The warm, lushly illustrated tale of bunny brothers BunBun and FonFon, who hear bumps in the night and imagine all kinds of monstrous horrors, only to find each other both the source of those mysterious noises and refuge against the dark, was well worth the wait.

Read more books about things that go bump in the night.

The genesis of this delightfully tender tale for preschoolers offers a revealing window into children’s publishing and is a testament to the rarity of a professional relationship that has yielded more than 10 books (The Squiggle, 1996, etc.).  We talked with these Washington State artists just before Who’s There? finally launched, 11 years after being bought.

So how did this story come about?

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Pierr Morgan: This is a long story. We’ll try to make it short.

Carole Lexa Schaefer: I wrote the story. I showed it to Pierr, and she was interested in illustrating it. So go ahead, Pierr…

PM: OK, the way the story was written, I could only see human kids in it. And that was bothersome to me, because I just couldn’t figure out how to make the illustrations of universal appeal. If you’re illustrating children, then you’ve got to have a certain ethnicity, and it’s complicated, so I think I turned it down for a while.

CLS: Well, not really.

PM: Anyway, I thought about it for a while, and I thought, What if the main character were an alligator afraid of noises in the night? That would be funny, because humans are afraid of alligators, and you don’t often think of an alligator being afraid of stuff. So it was a challenge, and that’s what I did. I made a whole dummy.

CLS: With a house on stilts and the alligator living in the bayou.

PM: Yes, I had an alligator living in the everglades or some tropical rainforest. So we sold it that way.

CLS: Yeah, we did. And our editor was going to a different company. In situations like this, you have to make a choice: Do you want her to take the piece with her because it was contracted, or leave it behind? So we chose to go with her, because she’d been really supportive of our work, and we’d done a number of books together. She was the one who had taken the book, and I had had the experience before of my editor leaving, and leaving a book behind, and then there’s no one to champion it there, and it’s more likely to go out of print sooner.

We made the decision to have the book taken over to Viking, and then we had also submitted to our editor a book about the same characters who were in The Squiggle, and people got enthused about that, and they said we’ll do this one first and Who’s There? sometime later. Well, what was it…four books later, Who’s There? still hadn’t been done. And it was dug out of the mothballs, and people looked at the alligators, and what did they say, Pierr?

PM: Well, no one really warmed up to the alligator characters. [laughs] Oh my God, it’s been 10 years, and nobody told me! OK, I thought, how about bunnies? No one’s afraid of a bunny.

CLS: We’re in a bunny-eat-bunny world, right?

PM: So the bunny was born, and actually while we were having a conference call with our editor, I was over at Carole’s house, and I made a sketch of the bunny character, which is not the final one you see in the book now—it was much more elaborate and ultra-ultra-cute, with little pajamas and holding a little toy…

CLS: And meanwhile, I had a personal change in my life. We moved about an hour and a half from Seattle to our present home on Camano Island, where we have pastureland and people like to dump off in this nice green field their pet bunnies that they no longer want to take care of. So we had a little clutch of domestic bunnies in the field here, and there were two beautiful caramel-colored bunnies: one I called BunBun and the other FonFon. So BunBun and FonFon are no more in real life, but they’re immortalized in this story.

PM: Over the years that this kept getting pushed back, we had a little joke between us. We’d say, “Who cares about Who’s There?” So we…

CLS: We were calling it [laughs] Who Cares?

How important are toys in projecting children’s emotions and offering comfort?

PM: Really, really important. I grew up with Raggedy Anne and Raggedy Andy with the shoe-button eyes, and I would not go to sleep, I would not go to bed until we’d found them. I remember being very traumatized when my Raggedy Andy was lost, so I just had the Anne left, but still. I don’t know—I’m speaking from a personal level just because I remember my childhood so well, and the night was terrifying for me, so it was very comforting to have those toys with me. But Carole, teaching kids that age for many years, may have a different perspective.

CLS: Well, that’s part of it, but this story is very, very personal. I have a double input, because I have my own childhood, and I have a son and experience working with children. But when I write—I think this is probably true for everybody—you’re dipping into some well of yourself. In this case, it’s very easy to point to because I had a pull-duck toy, and it was my first toy that I remember. The fact that the pull-duck toy shows up in the story, like Pierr, stems from my vivid, vivid images of my childhood—I mean, I see it in pictures in my mind—and my fear of the night was directly connected to what I wrote about here. It was what I imagined.

The center of all the pieces that Pierr and I have done together is the imagination. Imagination is one of the most important pieces in a human being, and children develop that; they use it to reflect on the real world that’s around them. If you’re encouraged as a child to use your imagination, as I think we were, you then can use that throughout your life. We happen to be using it in this art form to bring the cycle back around to children. So the toy…becomes a part of this, and some toys become very dear or have meaning for a child. It might be a little blue teddy bear or a scrap of a quilt, or whatever it is. And these toys connect you to things from your imagination into the world.