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“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,” –The Heart and The Bottle
The Heart and the Bottle
by Oliver Jeffers
AR Test, Must Read, Picture Book
A young girl, much like any other, finds herself fascinated with the world surrounding her. From the sea to the sky and everything in between, the young girl finds herself continuously curious about everything the world carries—that is, until the world no longer carries something very important: a loved one who has recently passed away.
To reconcile the emotions that come with this passing, the young girl decides her best option is to bottle away her heart. But as she grows older, the girl quickly finds that lugging her heart around in a bottle is not just cumbersome, but it also drains the girl’s ability to stay curious about the world.
When the girl finally feels that it is time to free her heart from its bottle, it will take another curious, young girl to help her find the solution to freeing her heart.
The Heart and The Bottle tackles the complicated topic of grief through a touching metaphor. Bright illustrations show what words find hard to describe. For example, the passing of the main character’s loved one is not told explicitly through the story. Rather, it is conveyed through an illustration of the girl looking at an empty chair that the loved one sat on earlier in the book. In this way, the illustrations of the book capture the inarticulable moments in a child’s life, whether it’s a trip through their wide-reaching imagination or an attempt to conceptualize grief and death in a healing way.
Even though The Heart and The Bottle is a picture book, the story is intended to be read aloud to a child, rather than for the child to read it for the first time independently. The writing itself contains some larger words that may be harder for a young reader to work out on their own, but the number of words per page is sparse, averaging about one to eight sentences per page. Additionally, a number of pages in this narrative do not rely on words at all, but instead communicates the relationship with the young girl and her loved one through text bubbles filled with illustrations of plant life, galaxies, bees, whales, and other compelling aspects of the world.
The sparse text and elaborate illustrations show the ways in which this book seems to be a space for conversation; the illustrated pages without words grant room for parents and their children to talk about the images on the page. In so doing, The Heart and The Bottle gives all readers the chance to understand a way to move through grief while maintaining a fervor and love for the surrounding world.
Though perhaps a heavier read, The Heart and The Bottle tackles the difficult topic of grief in a kid-friendly manner. In addition, it gives a vital message to young readers experiencing grief for the first time. The Heart and The Bottle lets all readers know that it is okay to feel things intensely, it is okay to take time to heal, but most importantly, it’s okay to allow yourself to stay vulnerable and curious to the surrounding world despite the events that may come your way.
- There is no violence, but it should be noted that there is a reference of a family’s members death that is illustrated through an empty chair and the words, “She took delight in finding new things . . . until she found an empty chair.”
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