The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lived alone, except for his cat and his cow, in a tall house on the very edge of the sea. He spent his days peering out over the water, looking for the glint of glass— a possible bottle with a message inside. He would take his little boat and fish out the bottle, and then deliver the message to the proper recipient. After he had done this for a long, long time, he became sad that the messages were never for him. Perhaps “he felt loneliness as sharp as fish scales.”
One day, a bottle held a party invitation, but for whom? He went around to the people in his tiny village, asking if they had sent the invitation, but no one had. But oh, they sighed, didn’t they wish they had received such an invitation? The Uncorker decided that he would have to go to the assigned place at the assigned time to explain to the sender that he had been unable to deliver the message, …and you can guess the rest.
Michelle Cuevas’ invention of this dedicated man answers a mystery we’ve never acknowledged: who finds all those messages in bottles? Her crisp, evocative word choices pack music into the few pages of her hopeful story.
Erin Stead’s illustrations create a salty seaside village peopled with quirky individuals. Vast swathes of sea green, salmon, pumpkin, and gold carry the mood, for this is no Caribbean scene, but rather a cold, raw locale that keeps the Uncorker’s nose always pink. Against these washes of soothing oil-pastel colors pop the red of his gloves and knit cap, his front door and his umbrella. Although her backgrounds are undefined, her buildings, animals, and especially her people are penciled in with minute detail. So much emotion in those little pencil strokes: humor, kindness, bleakness, and dawning friendship.
The very best picture book authors can make the words sing in such a way that the grown-up reading it will be willing to read it again—and again. The very best picture books will have illustrations that not only explain the words, but even deepen the story, with new revelations each time the child pores over a beloved book. This is just such a work; a treasure from the sea.
Disclaimer: I read a library copy of this book. Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.