24 March 2010

Book of the Week (53): "The Heart and the Bottle" by Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers illustrated and wrote one of my favourite picture books of recent years, Lost and Found, the story of an unlikely friendship between a boy and a penguin. (Other favourites include The Way Back Home and The Incredible Book Eating Boy.) His latest book, The Heart and the Bottle, is no less off-beat, and every bit as charming. It’s the story of a little girl who loves to learn all about the world – the stars, the sea – until one day, she comes over to her father’s chair to show him something she has drawn and finds the chair empty. Her father is no longer there. At that moment she stops feeling wonder at the world, stops marvelling at the beauty of things. Sadly she puts her heart away in a bottle, just to keep it safe…

Like Lost and Found this is at least in part a book about loneliness, and its story is supremely well told; and just like the earlier book it finds an ending which doesn’t feel forced or over-sentimental and yet is sweet, is just right. As usual Jeffers’ mixed-media pictures bear slow appreciation – they’re beautiful things (I’m going to have an Oliver Jeffers on my wall one day, just see if I don’t…), sometimes very richly detailed and sometimes expressive with such simplicity, with many lovely, witty discoveries to be made.

I have slight doubts, as I occasionally do with Oliver Jeffers’ books, whether they aren’t the sort of lovely picture books that adults adore more than children do – I’m yet to be persuaded that this is a book that young children will be charmed by. But I’m going to ignore that brief cavilling for now, because personally I love it. It’s about grief and love and the whole world – it’s touching, and profound.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

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