Outland Interviews the Dreher sisters, authors of Monster of the Celadon Sea

Now funding on Kickstarter: Monster of the Celadon Sea! When a young girl named Cedar hears rumors circling around town of a sea monster, her imagination runs wild at the possibilities. With some help from her best friend, the townsfolk, and her unmatched curiosity, she sets out to capture the monster! Outland's Em Palladino sat down with co-authors the Dreher sisters, Angie and Michelle, to discuss their writing process, the kid-friendly messages in the world of theCeladon Sea, and what might be in store for Cedar in the future.

Em: Monster of the Celadon Sea is a very cute story about a young girl named Cedar going out to sea in the hopes of capturing a legendary sea monster that has become the talk of the town. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?

Angie: When my son was a baby back in 2014, I made up a simple story while trying to get him to sleep. I told Michelle about the story and she thought it had some potential. We would talk about it every once in a while over the years, but never felt motivated to finish it until we got a gentle push from Michelle’s husband. So, we took advantage of a 7-hour road trip we took a couple years ago and outlined the whole thing.

Michelle: Being sisters, Angie and I were always close growing up and have now worked professionally together for about 12 years. We complement each other pretty well and can brainstorm ideas with a fair amount of ease. That is, unless we’re hungry, which is usually the only time it can get dicey.

E: Many of Cedar's experiences along the way seem to be carefully chosen for a young audience: the importance of libraries, receiving help from friends on a tough project, being okay with trial and error when attempting something difficult. As parents, did those lessons come naturally, or were they something that you workshopped?

M: I taught children of all ages for about a decade and a half at the Nelson Atkins Museum of Art which gave me lots of experiences well before I had children of my own. But once I did have kids and started reading to them before bed, I really started to notice what worked and what might be lacking in the picture books we chose. One of my favorites is Little Jordan Ray’s Muddy Spud by Gris Grimly. I loved the map in the book and how all the parts connected together by the end of that book.   

A: Definitely having kids influenced us. I’m always on the hunt for books that will not only entertain our kids, but teach them something (while also entertaining me since I will have to read it on repeat). It was important to me that Cedar doesn’t just suddenly complete tasks without any obvious effort and that there are resources available–library, books, friends, etc. She had to work toward her goals over a visible amount of time. I was so excited with how Aaron Palsmeier depicted this in Cedar’s research montage–the window with the changing seasons and Cedar wearing a sweater in winter–so subtle and fantastic, like an easter egg when a reader finally notices.

E: This was Aaron Palsmeier's first time illustrating a children's book. It seems to be outside of his usual fare, but he did a fantastic job on every page, with very clean watercolors and the occasional sketch when Cedar is imagining the sea monster's features. How hands-on were you when it came to the art direction?

A: We gave Aaron character descriptions and a page-by-page outline of what happens. But we also kept specific details loose to allow him artistic freedom. Then he worked his illustration magic.

M: Aaron really nailed it for us. We’d get new pages and just be blown away seeing our story come to life. 

A: There were so many times it felt like he was pulling the pages straight out of my brain, they were so perfect.

M: To be honest, we had mostly minimal adjustments to what he gave us. He was always so great at taking our feedback and making changes quickly. Aaron was a dream to work with and we just love his fun style.

E: Almost all of the animals featured in the story are on the endangered species list: lemurs and red pandas, lynx and pangolin, and the back of the book features small profiles detailing some facts about each species. Was a goal of the book to inspire children to look into these animals further and become more conscious of conservation? 

M: There’s plenty of books that highlight a lot of the same animals, like elephants, lions, and tigers, but we really wanted to show kids that there’s a whole world of animals out there with unique and interesting characteristics.

A: It was funny that when we were first brainstorming animals, one of us suggested. How about a fox? What animal could we pair with a fox? A rabbit! Oh wait...that’s Zootopia. Back to the drawing board.

E: Without getting too much into spoilers, the end of the story features a twist on the classic sea beast tale, and Cedar captures the sea monster in a way that felt true to her story. Was this always the intended ending?

A: Yes! This ending was always the ending. I love keeping things on the positive side in a kids book. 

M: We really wanted to build up the mystery throughout the book as the main character prepares for her journey. And we had always intended the ending to be something that gives a sense of childlike wonder.

A: We also wanted to highlight how language can impact perception. Things might not always be what you think they are you hear something that seems simple and clear, but then there are actually so many different ways one statement can be true. This is a reoccurring theme within Cedar’s own imagination throughout the book.

E: The story ends on a hopeful note of a next quest. Can we look forward to further adventures with Cedar and Flint?

M: We don’t want to say too much, but there’s a definite story arc we’re building with future books.

A: I will say that I’m a bit inspired by Patrick Rothfuss’s The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle books. I absolutely love the multi-part aspects of those books. When my son was younger and phasing between picture books and chapter books, I wished there was something in the middle for him. It felt like there was an unfilled gap in what was available.

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