Outland is pleased to announce that Monster of the Celadon Sea, our first picture book, written by the Dreher sisters and illustrated by Aaron Palsmeier, is arriving at bookstore shelves near you! (It's also available at the Outland store!)
This story of a brave red panda, determined to "capture" a sea monster, follows the youngster on her quest, from the first steps of library research to actually sailing the seas to find the creature for herself. Outland chatted with the Dreher sisters, Angie and Michelle, to chat about the inspiration behind the picture book.
Outland: Where did the seed for Monsters of the Celadon Sea come from? What prompted you to write this story?
Angie: Back in 2014 when my son was maybe six-months old, I would make up songs and short stories to try and get him to go to sleep. One time, I made up a story about a kid who heard about a sea monster, and the only way you knew the sea monster was around was the sound it made before surfacing: "Pop! POP! Pop!..." And so the kid builds a boat and sets out to capture the sea monster. The next day, I told Michelle the story, and she said it had some potential. We could expand the story to include details about the sea monster. Then life happened and we didn't pick the story back up until a road trip to see our parents during the Pandemic Summer of 2020.
Michelle: For many years, I worked at an art museum where I taught art workshops to kids of all ages. I had the most fun with the little ones, because they were so excited about everything. Part of my job was to help these toddlers understand basic concepts such as shape and color, and I would often read pictures books that would highlight these elements through storytelling. So when I heard the premise of the sea monster story, I knew we use it as a way to have kids build a creature in their mind through the different attributes the main character hears about.
Outland: You're both artists; what was it like to work with another artist creating pictures for your words?
Angie: It was great! Outland did a fantastic job connecting us with the perfect artist for our book. Our style with printmaking was not what we wanted for the book and would also have been a very long and arduous process that likely would never get finished. We gave him a page-by-page outline of what happens, and he brought it all to life!
Michelle: Aaron was awesome and so talented. It was always magical to give him basic descriptions and then see him create our vision on paper, as if he could see directly into our brains. Every time if there were any changes, they would be very minor.
Outland: Angie, in addition to the writing work on this book, you also did the layout and design. Did you have to get into a different mindset during that part so you wouldn't keep tweaking the text?
Angie: Not exactly. I was still learning the program I was using for layout and I noodled it. A lot. I'm probably still noodling it. (I totally am.)
Michelle: Angie took point on this, but I was always peaking over her shoulder and throwing my two cents in.
Angie: But that's how we work collaboratively.
Outland: What was the experience of co-writing with your sister like?
Angie: The process was probably backward in some ways? I don't know how it's supposed to be done, but Michelle and I worked out the outline of each page together. Then we passed it on to Aaron Palsmeier, who worked his illustrative magic. Once we had the final art, I wrote the first draft of the text as I worked on the layout. Then Michelle came in and we tag-teamed going back and forth over the book.
Michelle: It worked much like our other projects. One of us would have a go at it. Then when we'd hit a wall, we would pass it on to the other person to add their tweaks. We usually go back and forth many times before we get to the finished iteration.
Angie: Never get too attached to anything you've done. We had to develop a phrase in the beginning for when one of us is working and the other is looking over their shoulder... "Don't tell me what I'm already doing!"
Outland: What great picture books have you read lately that you'd recommend to others?
Angie: Let's see... Nobody likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke is great. The Skull by Jon Klassen is new one we've been reading. And I always love Give Me Back My Bones by Kim Norman—such a super fun read. I really enjoy books with a good cadence. And I have to shout out Bea Wolf by Zach Weinersmith, although it's more graphic novel. What a great book! (That I now have to re-purchase because my son accidentally donated it to his school library.)
Michelle: My littlest one that I mostly read with is two years old and very much into pop-up books. So I try to find interesting ones. I love pop-up books! She also loves any of the books by Sandra Boynton. Sandra's books also have a nice cadence to them and they're just silly and fun.