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Friday, September 2, 2016

The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, written by Michelle Cuevas and illustrated by Erin E. Stead. Dial, Penguin. 2016. $23.99 ages 4 and up

"But then he remembered that this was about as likely as finding a mermaid's toenail on the beach. For he had no name. He had no friends. He stank of seaweed and salt and fisherman's feet. No one would ever write him a letter."

Many of the books that I tell you about are read one time, put on my 'to be done' shelf and left there until I have the time to write a new post. Then, I reread them, look even more carefully at the images created by skilled and brilliant artists, and sit down to share another book I love with you, my readers.

That did not happen with the 'Uncorker'. I read it, went back to take particular note of the illustrations, read it again, and then once more. Since then, I have read it three more times. It is one of those 'perfect' books - a debut picture book that is filled with beautifully expressive language and a deeply personal look at a lonely man through the quiet, captivating images created by Caldecott Medalist Erin E. Stead. I won't stop reading it because this post is delivered. I can't wait to share it with children, with librarians, and with teachers returning to school with thoughts of building community in their classrooms by reading books that matter and make us care about each other.

The "Uncorker' lives by the sea with his cat for company. He is tasked with scanning the waters for bottles that contain messages meant for someone in particular. Once he has opened the bottle and  read the message, he sets off on a journey to deliver it, no matter where that journey may take him.

"Sometimes to deliver a bottle, he needed only to stroll to the nearest village.
Other times, he would journey until his compass became rusty and
he felt loneliness as sharp as fish scales."

Most recipients are very pleased with the message delivered. But he is sad thinking that, although he longs to find a message meant for himself, it will never happen to him. Nameless and friendless (and stinky to boot), he has no one to send him such a message. A bottled party invitation proves his undoing. He has no idea who it is meant for; there is no name attached. In his efforts to solve the mystery, he rides through the village asking for help in identifying the sender's script. No one has an answer for him.

Determined to deliver it to the right person, he sets off for the seashore where the party is to be held. With gift of apology in hand for not knowing who the message is meant for, he is awed by the celebration on the beach. He decides to stay, unaware that the party is for him. He does, indeed, have many wonderful friends. How kind they are ...

Erin E. Stead uses woodblock, oil pastels and pencil, and a palette as warm as the story itself, to draw us in and have us get to know the solitary man with stooped shoulders and a sad countenance. She also gives life to a lovely community of endearing characters ... I would love to meet them!

Don't miss this very special book! 

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