STARRED REVIEW
August 23, 2016

Cherish the messenger

By Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

In this picture book debut from author Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead, we meet the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, who lives in a tall house on the shore with only his cat for company. We see he’s a bashful man—Stead paints his body language with beguiling precision—possessing slightly slumped shoulders, a thoughtful brow, a quiet demeanor and a kind face. His job is to keep his eye on the waves and gather bottles at sea, the ones containing messages.

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In this picture book debut from author Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead, we meet the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, who lives in a tall house on the shore with only his cat for company. We see he’s a bashful man—Stead paints his body language with beguiling precision—possessing slightly slumped shoulders, a thoughtful brow, a quiet demeanor and a kind face. His job is to keep his eye on the waves and gather bottles at sea, the ones containing messages. He then journeys as near or far as he must to deliver the letters. He longs for his own message in a bottle, addressed just to him, his own note from a friend. But “he had no name. He had no friends.”

Cuevas writes with a gentle pace and vivid, evocative language: The man, she tells us, sometimes “felt loneliness as sharp as fish scales,” and he longs to see his own name “winking” from a page, because a letter can “hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl.”

Using woodblock prints, oil pastels and pencils on a particularly warm palette, Stead fills this quaint, seaside town with townsfolk (each so distinctive they could each have their own story) who are seemingly oblivious to the anonymous sender of a party invitation the man finds in a bottle. He asks them, one by one, if they know to whom it belongs, but he finds no answers. When he shows up to the party to apologize to whomever it was intended, there they all stand to greet him, ready to celebrate. Clearly, the Uncorker is already a friend to many, whether he realizes it or not. He decides to stay at this party that astute readers will realize was thrown just for him.

This sweet-tempered story of kindness (if the entire world operated as these townsfolk do, it’d be a much better place) is as quiet and unassuming as its protagonist. Don’t let it slip by you. It’s utterly enchanting. 

 

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

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The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles

By Michelle Cuevas, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
Dial
ISBN 9780803738683

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