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Charleston teen author confronts grief and life’s journey in debut children’s book ‘Treasures of the Tide’

This article originally appeared on WCIV-TV

At 17, Lucy Mettler, a Charleston native, is young for most people with a published book, but it was a story born out of necessity.

When Mettler was a child, her grandfather and grandmother died three weeks apart. The terminal nature of life couldn’t be ignored. In many ways, the naivety and ignorance that adolescence brings were stripped from her. The emotions from a time of intense grief stayed with her as she grew up — lying dormant, awaiting a moment to spring forward. She never thought they would inspire a story. And then, a year ago, while walking along the beach, talking about her grandmother with her mom, the story idea hit her. It was something she felt she had to write.

“I think that it, honestly, in some ways, helped me to process what I went through when I was younger,” she said on a video call, blonde hair draped to her shoulders while donning brown-rimmed glasses and a white shirt. “It was a full circle moment for me. Children have this naivety and innocence, and losing someone close to you at a young age can affect that in many ways. So, I wanted to communicate grief in a way that children would understand and also help parents work through it simultaneously.”

Treasure of the Tide author Lucy Mettler Headshot (provided).

She was writing the story she needed when she was younger, seeking answers after her grandparents died, she said. And the product of that journey is Mettler’s debut children’s book “Treasures of the Tide” published by Elyon Press on July 11.

Mettler’s picture book is best described as lyrical. It tells the story of a young boy named Gus as he goes shell hunting with his grandfather and younger sister Willa-Mae, an action that makes him feel connected to his dead father.

It is through shell hunting Mettler explores the diversity of life. Each shell Gus finds describes a style of person: the sea urchin has spikes, but under them is a fragile and beautiful body; the conch shell is the “mother of shells” — open to creatures taking refuge within its walls of safety; the angel wing shells are different shades and different colors; the scallop shell, with a few chips and imperfections, details life’s long passage to each present moment.

“Gus could only imagine the journey that this scallop shell had endured on its way to the tidal pool,” Mettler writes. “The chips were part of its story. Without those precise bumps and tumbles it faced through the ocean tides, it may never have ended up in Willa-Mae’s hand.”

Through a story about grief, Mettler hopes that young readers can find the power in the natural world around them.

“Nature mirrors life,” she said. “The ocean is this living, breathing thing. It does represent life, in a way. It comes and goes, just like life. And that is the story and the themes within this story.”

With the release of the book, Mettler partnered with the National Alliance for Children’s Grief where she provided the book as a resource to grief professionals and children. She donated 500 books to those that attended the 26th annual symposium in Pittsburgh, Pa. An action she hopes will help make a difference.

“I did it because I felt that it would help put my book in front of people who could need it,” she said. “I really wanted my book to help make a difference.”

Accompanying Mettler’s lyrical prose is the illustrative work of Nathaniel Eckstrom, the illustrator for more than 26 books which include “Duck!” and “The Happiest Boy on Earth.”

To pay for the illustrative work, Mettler worked at a summer camp around kids, and it is that experience she attributes to giving herself the necessary language to communicate the complexity of loss to children.

“The job also gave me the wonderful opportunity to interact with young children,” Mettler said. “But even though the book is geared toward elementary-aged children, it’s really a book for people of all ages.”

She adds: “My hope is that this tale inspires wonder and offers comfort.”

Mettler’s next work isn’t decided. She is currently focused on college essays and stepping into young adulthood. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t writing.

She keeps story ideas on file in the Notes app on her phone. And she is currently tossing around ideas for a young adult novel, a fantasy novel, or both. She isn’t entirely sure, but she has time to figure that out. Until then, she is still grappling with the surreal feeling of having a published book that felt like a lifetime in the making.

“It’s very surreal,” she said with a slight smile. “I remember holding my book for the first time, and it was a tangible thing, and it went from an idea to being physical. It’s a moment I’ll remember forever.”

“Treasures of the Tide” is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through Mettler’s website.