Blog » Post

The heart and the Bottle: A book by Oliver Jeffers

The book, The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers (2010), wisely begins, “Once there was a girl much like any other…”. The story is about someone and something common—someone and something understandable, relatable.

The story is about a young girl who is curious about her world, engaged, creative, dreamy, joyful, and who has a loving bond with an older person (someone who appears to be akin to a grandparent based on the book’s illustrations). The story is also about the girl’s experience of loss when the older person is no longer there, of the emotional pain she feels, and of how she copes with that pain, of what follows.

After the loss, “(f)eeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place….So, she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck… and that seemed to fix things… at first” (Oliver Jeffers).

The story is about what many of us do with emotional pain at some point in time or another, how we sometimes attempt to find relief from the pain by doing our best to seal the pain—or even our whole hearts that contain the pain—into something akin to a glass bottle. We try, one way or another, to stuff the pain into a jar and to put on a lid.

As in life, the story within the book, The Heart and the Bottle, unfolds from there. In the story, the girl experiences and comes to notice how having her heart in a bottle has some unintended drawbacks. With her heart in a bottle, the girl notices she can no longer feel positive emotions nor sense her imaginative and creative self. By having her heart in a bottle, it appears a vital connection to her own self, to her vitality, has been disconnected.

When the girl realizes that having her heart in a bottle isn’t working out so well, she decides she needs to get her heart back. She tries many things to get her heart out of the glass bottle. She tries shaking, hammering, sawing, smashing. Interestingly, none of these forceful efforts actually work.

In the end, the girl does get her heart back. She does so with help, and with what I will interpret (based on the illustrations) as gentleness, kindness, friendliness, and warmth. It is the gentleness, friendliness, and kindness that lead to the success, not the brute force.

And what else does the girl discover in doing this? Well, she discovers that having her heart back is helpful. Bringing her heart back into herself with friendliness, gentleness, interest, and kindness brings solace to her; it makes a positive difference.




The Heart and the Bottle is a wonderful gem written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers and published by HaperCollins Children’s Books, © 2010.

The photograph for this post was taken by myself, Tracy Riley, on February 12, 2017.