We have this idea that childhood is a time of happiness and that only children in dire predicaments know true sadness. But happiness is an elusive emotion for all ages, and very early on we begin to wonder if there’s a recipe for it.
The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows, Child’s Play, 2015, is a delightful book that explores this theme.
Meg collects all the necessary ingredients for happiness in a jar:
“It tasted of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine. And it smelled of warm cookies and the ocean. It was red, yellow and all of the other best colors.”
Meg is a refreshing girl character. She wears pants, she had a laboratory, and she gets dirty – not a very common illustration of girls in picture books. She’s assertive and uses her invented jar of happiness to help her friends, her Oma, and even, sometimes her bothersome brother.
But one day, her jar of happiness disappears.
Meg becomes bereft. And in doing so, she gets new lessons on happiness from her friends, her Oma, and even her brother.
Happiness doesn’t reside in some secret potion, it’s part of her life – it’s in her friends, her family, and the world around her.
I read this book with my friend 7 year old Karishma, who happened to come to our reading time dressed as an angel.
(That’s one of the great pleasures of reading to children, they’re still trying on different personalities and are likely to come to story-time with a story of their own.)
The book sparked a conversation about happiness and if it was really necessary to be happy all the time.
Karishma observed that first of all, being happy all the time is impossible. And that it was nice when Meg’s friends got to give her happiness — that giving to friends and cheering them up is always a great way to make one’s self happy.
We both loved the illustrations. Soft colors and lots of sweet and funny details. My photos don’t do them justice.
Karishma and I kept an eye on the cat, who plays a vital role in helping Meg better understand the nature of happiness.
This is a great book for both early readers and reluctant readers, especially if accompanied by a conversation about what true happiness is. In a culture where we’re told in subtle and not so subtle ways that happiness is the most important emotion, it’s great to have a book that provides space for a more expansive approach to the landscape of human emotions.
Ailsa Burrows studied Fine Art and worked at design agencies and galleries before gaining a Masters in Children’s Book Illustration from Cambridge School of Art. You can see more of her illustrations here.
Child’s Play, based in the UK, publishes innovative award winning books that promote learning through play – books that fully reflect our diverse society. Their books are beautifully crafted with strong bindings and illustrated endpapers. You can visit their website here.
May your day have a bit of reflection, a bit of art, and a bit of happiness, too.
Thanks for reading my blog.