Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Courier Of Kindness

When walking along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan you will find roughly-textured black stones, flat stones perfect for skipping along the water's surface, and heart-shaped stones to add to your collection.  Your water-loving dog will dive beneath the waves bringing back the perfect rock for burying in a hole dug with sprays of sand flying behind her.  On rainy days you will find those stones only found in Michigan, Petoskey stones.

If you are fortunate you will discover shoreline jewels, pieces of glass, edges worn smooth by waves and sand.  Finding a bottle intact would be a wondrous first for me.  The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles (Dial Books For Young Readers, August 23, 2016) by debut picture book author Michelle Cuevas and Caldecott Medal winning illustrator Erin E. Stead is a quiet, heartwarming story of a man devoted to finding gifts for others.

THE UNCORKER OF OCEAN BOTTLES lived alone on a high spot with only one tree for shade.

Day after day he gazed across the expanse looking for a bobbing bottle.  His job upon finding this precious prize was to open it and give the message inside to the proper person.  He never knew the extent of his journey to complete his task.

Sometimes the distance was short.  Other times it took him weeks and months to make a delivery.  The emotion embedded in the words varied as well as the age of the messages.  These small letters were as different as the individuals who wrote and received them.

Over the years the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles wondered if there would ever be a letter for him.  (Sometimes it's this kind of wish, however unlikely it is to come true, which gives an extra lightness to any kind of day.)  Our courier found a strange kind of note one morning; unusual because there was no name to be found on it.

Inquiries were made to an assortment of individuals in the nearby town but no one knew anything about the note.  That evening the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles felt sad he had been unable to present the letter to someone.  He made a vow as he fell asleep.  The next day and into the next night, the promise was kept.  Some messages are of the most extraordinary kind imaginable.

When read aloud the words written by Michelle Cuevas are like a lullaby for life.  Her comparisons, the use of similes and metaphors, are sensory and vividly descriptive.  Her use of dialogue within the narrative draws us further into the life of this lonely, dedicated man.  Her pacing is impeccable asking us to move or muse along with the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles.  Here are two passages.

Sometimes the messages were very old, crunchy like leaves in the fall.

But most of the time they made people quite happy, for a letter can hold the treasure of a clam-hugged pearl. 

There is a technique, a style, entirely unique to artist Erin E. Stead.  All of the images for this title are rendered in

woodblock prints, oil pastels, and pencil.

The texture they create makes you want to embrace the book and the story within its pages.

Her attention to detail and her delicate line work is first seen on the dust jacket; the series of steps leading to the home, the cat perched on the roof, the seagull next to the Uncorker, the bright red on the door, the puffs of smoke coming from the chimney and the cow in the meadow below.  To the left, on the back of the jacket, the sea green is extended over the spine to create a background.  Within a circle of white, Stead has placed the Uncorker riding his bike with his back to readers.  Items in his hand suggest the outcome of the story.

The same sea green is the canvas for the book case.  Embossed on the front is the Uncorker looking out his window with his cat next to him.  Both of them have their backs to us.  The opening and closing endpapers are a darker shade of the sea green.

Erin Stead begins her visual interpretation of the story on the title, verso and dedication pages.  First we see a bottle on the waves with a fish swimming beneath it. Then we are inside the Uncorker's home with him and his cat.  Most of the illustrations span two pages with the same hue of green in various shades visible in all of them either as water, sky or the darkness inside the Uncorker's home. For those pictures on single pages Stead places them within circles on a white background.  White is used throughout this title as a striking element of design.

One of my favorite illustrations (I love them all.) is for the second phrase noted above.  In this one the entire background is variations on golden sunlight for the interior of a woman's home.  On the left she is seated in a chair with a look of pure bliss on her face.  Her eyes are closed as she holds the letter.  Next to her is the bottle on one side and on the other side sits a gramophone on a table.  On the right through a circular window, mirroring the shape on those single-page pictures, we see the Uncorker walking away looking down or perhaps speaking to his cat. His pants are a darker shade of green.

This book, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles written by Michelle Cuevas with illustrations by Erin E. Stead, is a gem glowing with charm.  As soon as you read the title and see the dust jacket image, you know this book is going to be rich and rare.  The words and illustrations lift you up and transport you to a realm of wonderful possibilities.  This book must be shared...often.

To learn more about Michelle Cuevas and Erin E. Stead and their other work please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Erin E. Stead is featured at author, reviewer and blogger Julie Danielson's blog Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast and at Brightly. 


  1. Loved Stead's illustrations too, especially the texture and soothing color palette.

  2. She most definitely has a gift for creating mood. Plus her details go right into your heart.