Oliver Jeffers, The Heart and the Bottle
Published 2010 by HarperCollins, 32p
I think my fondness and admiration for Oliver Jeffers’ work is obvious now but his books continue to delight me. The Heart and the Bottle is sophisticated, bitter-sweet and heart-warming. I am not very convinced that Ema could really manage the metaphysical approach but it was an amazing reading experience and the illustrations are beautiful and resourceful.
It tells the story of a little girl whose head was filled with all the curiosities of the world. An impressive, pink chair near the window is the magic place where the father reads the girl books that give answers to her questioning. Until one day, when she finds the chair empty.
Jeffers chooses images to speak for the words, loading them with metaphorical meaning. There is a huge accumulation of emotions, an oscillation between fear and hope, grief and comfort. The moment the girl realizes her father’s death she needs to feel secure.
Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place. Just for the time being. So, she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck… and that seemed to fix things… at first. Although in truth, nothing was the same. She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea. She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…
There is no recipe or legitimate age to achieve knowledge to embrace pain or loss so the little girl’s decision to lock her heart defines the human need for spiritual protection. But there was a cost for this resistance. Life became dull, linear.
With the help of a new friend, the now grown-up girl learns that the complexity and completion of life implies experiencing difficulties as well.
The heart was put back where it came from. And the chair wasn’t so empty any more.
Complement The Heart and the Bottle with Grandad’s Island, a moving allegory on the death of a grandparent or with Rebecca Cobbs’ Missing Mommy, a beautiful story that comforts the soul of a grieving child.