In a note accompanying The Red Bottle (Red Bottle Press), author and former sales and marketing professional Phil Brill says that the story is for “children of all ages” but particularly those in grades 3 to 7. The note also promises—and the book delivers— jokes and educational content on, among other subjects, word codes, fractions, using a library, catching fish and, of course, red sea glass. Strikingly illustrated in black and white ink and wash, with touches of red, by award-winning artist Simon Dupuis, the tale, Brill says, was inspired by his wife Bela, who found red sea glass on a beach one day in Montauk. He was reading a book at the time about the 1918 flu epidemic and wanted to bring together various interests, so he started researching particularly sea glass and influenza—when not out fishing the beaches and bays of Long Island (he practices catch and release). It’s clear that the story that resulted was a labor of love.
The narrative begins with a prologue that describes how a red medicine bottle went overboard in a storm about 100 years ago, its shards finding their way all over the world and smoothed out in time. Then “one summer day, many, many years later” the story proper begins, as 8-year-old Rose finds red sea glass shaped in the form of a rose. What does that mean? She and her brother Mike, 12, two intelligent and curious youngsters, become detectives, with the loving encouragement of their mother and father. Their quest finally leads them to a descendent of the person who made the red bottle and filled it with herbal medicine. In addition to the story itself, the book boasts a small bonus section, “Mike’s Private Joke Book,” with outrageous, punny knock-knock Q & As. It’s all charming and heartfelt, but one wonders if kids who don’t have the good fortune to live comfortably in an intact family, including grandparents, will find themselves relating to Rose and Mike and their family, and some of the jokes may also go over some little heads.