This is something a little different than what I have been posting but, some of the greatest loves of my whole life are books and there is a very special place in my heart for children's books. The best children's books combine the written word with stunning illustrations to pack heartfelt, poetic, and humorous tales into ten sentences that span twenty pages. They are these little concentrated powerhouses of storytelling and I just can't get enough of them.
The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is definitely one of the best kinds of children's books. I picked it up as a Christmas present for the boys after we fell in love with Stuck by Oliver Jeffers, which is another incredible and hilarious book. Because Stuck is so lighthearted and funny, I expected something similar from this book but, to my surprise, it was something quite deep and powerful.
It begins as a story about a little girl who has all the "curiosities of the world" inside of her. You watch as she and her grandfather go on adventures, both in real life and through books. The words are simple but the illustrations are much more complex and tell a story in themselves. The author's flair for humor was clearly evident throughout the illustrations and as we really investigated the pictures many of them had us laughing out loud.
One day, the little girl discovers that her grandpa's chair is empty and she is struck with a terrible sadness. To help herself feel better she puts her heart in a bottle and tries to go on with her life. But, with her heart put away she has lost all of her wonder and life becomes a mundane chore. We watch as she grows up and we see how she rediscovers that part of herself that embodied her child-like curiosity.
It might seem like a heavy topic to tackle but, the way Oliver Jeffers writes the tale it both breaks your heart and puts it back together again. The death of a grandparent is something that children go through and the author manages to capture the experience and show the healing process in a way that doesn't feel like we're reading a book written for the express purpose of helping a child cope. I honestly did not expect Sawyer to understand the subtle emotional nuances but, he did and it was something he really wanted to talk about. He was as captivated by the little girl's journey as I was.
The illustration style is just gorgeous. It's really unique and whimsical in the way he combines beautiful watercolor landscapes with childlike doodles. But what really gets me about the illustrations are the scientific diagrams rendered in that sort of child like, hand drawn manner. The last page of the book is actually a complete diagram of the human heart drawn in what looks like crayon. I'm completely drawn in by this element because it is exactly how I imagine a child's mind works. A child's thought process is all about curiosity, imagination, scientific experiment, observation, and marvel and Oliver Jeffers absolutely captures that.
Like I said, little concentrated powerhouses of storytelling.