The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles
Author: Michelle Cuevas
Illustrator: Erin E. Stead
Published August 23rd, 2016 by Dial Books
Summary: The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles, who lives alone atop a hill, has a job of the utmost importance. It is his task to open any bottles found at sea and make sure that the messages are delivered. He loves his job, though he has always wished that, someday, one of the letters would be addressed to him. One day he opens a party invitation—but there’s no name attached. As he devotes himself to the mystery of the intended recipient, he ends up finding something even more special: the possibility of new friends.
Kellee’s Review: I love the premise of an Uncorker of Ocean Bottles even existing! There are so many notes (notes in a bottle, notes to Santa, etc.) that are out there floating around, so it is so much fun to imagine what happens to them. But the story is really about the Uncorker himself. What is it like to have a very important job yet be alone all the time? No matter how much you love what you do, is being alone ever going to be easy?
Erin Stead’s art always makes me want to pick up a book! Her use of woodblock prints, oil pastels, and pencil give a perfect feel for this story of a man who didn’t even know he was lonely. The illustrations give a wistful feel that fits Cuevas’s hopeful story.
Ricki’s Review: This is a book that readers will never forget. Years from now, I will sit in the sand on a beach and think of the Uncorker and all of his gentleness as a human being. His loneliness emanated from the pages, and I longed to go to him, to stay with him, and to become his friend. This would be a great book to discuss relationships and friendships with kids, and it also would be an excellent way to talk about loneliness. All people—kids included—feel loneliness, so a book like this will open up wonderful conversations about this emotion that is not discussed often.
The illustrations make this book stand out. I felt as if they were freshly drawn for my eyes only. I have a print hanging up in my son’s nursery, and I love looking at it every morning.
Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: As a read aloud in a classroom, The Uncorker of Ocean Bottles would be a perfect discussion starter on many levels. At the beginning of the book, students can guess what they think some of the bottle say when all they are told is that they are “dipped in sadness” or “very old” or “made people quite happy.” The conversation can continue about how they would feel living alone, even if they were doing something important and something they loved. Then they can make predictions about the message that is revealed then analyze how it changes the Uncorkers life.
Discussion Questions: What do you think the messages say?; What would you write as a message in a bottle if you were going to write one?; What do you think the Uncorker is going to do with the unaddressed message?; Would you like living alone?
Flagged Passages: “While the Uncorker of Ocean Bottles loved his job, he couldn’t help but wonder if he would ever receive a letter. Truth be told, each time he opened a bottle, a part of him hoped to see his own name winking from the top of the page.
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 fishermen’s feet. No one would ever write him a letter.”
Read This If You Loved: Little Tree by Loren Long, Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein