Tag Archives: Erin Stead

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

uncorker-of-ocean-bottlesThe 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.

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Lenny & Lucy, by Philip C. and Erin E. Stead

Lenny and LucyPeter and his father are moving to a new house in the woods, along with Harold, who is a good dog. Peter is not happy, and he and Harold stare out the bedroom window at the woods on the other side of the bridge, wondering what is in them—and what might come out of them. In the daytime, Peter and Harold take a big pile of pillows and blankets and fashion a huge watchman, whom they name Lenny, to make sure that nothing comes over the bridge during the night. Since Lenny looks so lonely, the next day Peter creates Lucy to be his friend.

The Steads’ very first collaboration, the poignant A Sick Day for Amos McGee, won the Caldecott Medal, and this third creation also has the hallmarks of excellence. This is not a storytime picture book, but rather a book for little ones to cuddle up in your lap and pore over the detailed drawings that require attention in order to catch the surprises. As an adult, I must admit that I found Lenny and Lucy a little disconcerting, and the first page I turned in which Lenny was actually holding a glass of milk gave me a bit of a jolt. Hopefully, children will see Erin Stead’s characters as funny and friendly, but they are somewhat uncomfortable. My years presenting puppet shows taught me that young children often enjoy that edgy line between reality and illusion. There is a sweet little owl who can be found on many of the pages, and children will have fun searching for him.

Philip Stead’s text is quite understated; each word carries worlds of meaning. He crafts his stories around Peter’s feelings and the plans he makes to deal with them. Peter is unhappy and afraid, but except for his fear of the woods, we don’t know anything about him. Did his parents divorce? Did his mother die? Does his father have a job, and why in the world did he move his child out to the wilderness, anyway? And who is this bold woman bringing him casseroles at night? Oh, wait. That’s an adult reader talking.

The tone of the book is straightforward, but sweet; a bit sorrowful and anxious in the beginning, but growing hopeful by the end. Peter’s determined efforts to confront his fears and solve his own problems can speak to fearful children everywhere. Somehow, this pile of pillows and blankets leads to a cozy group of friends and the belief that these scary woods might just be a good place for a new home, after all.

Vey highly recommended.

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.

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