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Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. Harper, 2010. $9.99 ages 5 and up

"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..."

What a lucky little girl to have such an affable and reassuring relationship with her grandfather! As she expresses wonder about the world around her, he is right there to answer her questions and provide quiet support for her learning. They lay together on the grass and discuss the stars. Her grandfather rows the boat while she floats on the sea. They fly kites at the beach. Their lives are filled with mutual delight.

On the day that she runs to him with a new drawing and finds his chair empty, she cannot be comforted. Her solution to the loss of her grandfather is to put her heart away so that it might never be broken again. As she wanders through the world, she notices nothing. Her mind is filled with sadness and has no place for wonder.

While the bottle around her neck seems to grow heavier, her heart is safe and she takes solace in that. Later in her life, she meets a girl much younger than herself whose interest in the world and its wonders parallel how she once felt. She has no answers to the little one's questions...because she doesn't have her heart. It is time to change that.

Oliver Jeffers has a way with words and art that seems so simple, yet conveys a great depth of emotion. There is a sense of something astonishing when she removes her heart; but it lets young readers understand how sad she is without her beloved grandfather.

This is a powerful and wondrous story.

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