Mystery Bottle

With all due respect to the Disney earworm, it's not really a small world. Making the great big planet seem that much less so is Kristen Balouch's exhilarating picture book Mystery Bottle, in which a child is brought geographically closer to a faraway grandparent thanks to some magic and the postal service.

One day Brooklyn-dwelling narrator Bailey receives a package in the mail from Iran; it contains a bottle. When Bailey pops the cork (a rolled-up map), the bottle releases a wind that blows him, still clutching the bottle, over the sea and mountains, through the city where his dad was born, "to the house where my grandfather lives.../ and into the arms of my Baba Bozorg." Following tea and conversation, Baba Bozorg takes Bailey up a mountain, where he shows his grandson how the bottle can get him home. A final spread finds Bailey soaring back across the ocean as Baba Bozorg reassures him, "When you want another cup of tea, just open the bottle, and the wind will bring you to me."

When it was first released in 2007, Mystery Bottle won the Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Award, and no wonder. Balouch (If You Are the Dreamer) works in cut-paper-style art with textual elements, many spreads festooned with trees, animals and buildings captured in breathtaking aerial view. Sharp-eyed readers will spot a white bird in nearly every scene, reminding them that when it comes to geographically distant relatives, distance can be relative. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

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