The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles has a job of the utmost importance. It is his task to open any bottle found at sea and make sure that the message is delivered.
This description from the flap of today’s featured picture book, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin Stead, filled me with delight when I read it. What an exciting task!, I thought. Rescuing hopes and dreams from bottles and doing whatever possible to make them come true! The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles lives in a house by the sea, very like that of one of my favorite literary characters, Miss Rumphius. (I think the cover illustration of said house is what really grabbed me at first—it’s a dear, narrow little house that reminds me so much of Miss Rumphius’s cottage, and of the lighthouse from Anne of the Island. Maybe I need to acquire a house by the sea for myself!) The Uncorker goes out each day to search for bottles, and travels all over, in all seasons and all kinds of weather, to make sure the messages get to their intended recipients. So much respect is placed on the value of the written word here, which I love. The Uncorker treats every message carefully and understands how special it is to receive a handwritten letter—mostly because he has never received one himself.
The plot turns on this point: the Uncorker is lonely. Author Michelle Cuevas vividly describes his isolation with the phrase, “loneliness as sharp as fish scales.” He spends all day by himself, searching the sea or traveling, and he does not have any close friends, aside from his faithful cat. However, his circumstances are about to change, as they thankfully do in most picture books. I won’t spoil the ending, except to say that it’s a lovely picture of community and the initial steps at forging friendships.
Since the Uncorker’s job is so connected with the sea, it makes sense that opening the book would feel like arriving at the seashore, right? Erin Stead’s pencil, oil pastel, and woodblock print illustrations are a perfect fit for the quiet tone of this story, and the colors are perfectly chosen to suggest the ocean. The textured look of the colors washing over each page evokes sand, breeze, and salt spray. I especially love one of the last illustrations, which depicts some characters watching the sun set over the horizon. The features are very abstract, but the hints of just-right colors help us clearly imagine what they’re seeing—green-blue ocean waves with white glints of light, a bright orange orb, and a dusky sky above.
The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles is not a very adventurous or rowdy story, but I certainly welcome sitting down with a restful picture book in these busy days. The next time you want to encourage a few quiet minutes of reflection, or inspire some letter-writing or a seaside vacation, seek this one out. Happy reading!