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The Heart and the Bottle: An app with a heart

Miranda West

Children's Editor, The Literary Platform

It was with a sense of childlike excitement that I downloaded and opened the new The Heart and the Bottle app from HarperCollins Children’s Books. All the elements were in place: a poignant, beautifully-illustrated tale by award-winning storyteller Oliver Jeffers, an inspired choice of narrator in Helena Bonham-Carter, the digital expertise of BoldCreative, award-winning design agency, and the genius of the iPad.

As publishers delve deeper into the brave new world of digitisation, it couldn’t be more appropriate for one of them to select a story about a curious young girl finding her way and marveling at the world around her. As the story unfolds and you find yourself engaging with Jeffers’ words and pictures in creative and inventive ways, you begin to marvel at the new lease of life that the book has found. It’s as if it has been unlocked.

And this is a classy app. The story and illustrations are never overlooked in favour of whizzy devices, flashing lights and intrusive sounds. There is a natural balance retained throughout and, whether it’s the poignancy of the tale (spoiler alert: her father dies), the beautifully rendered characters and scenes or the clever interactive features – you find that you don’t want to rush to the end. Rather, you take a gentle stroll and simply enjoy the process. Whether you’re changing the scene from day to night with your fingertip, creating ripples in the water or illuminating a lighthouse, listening to the narration, there is something rather magical about the elements brought together in this app that you want to savour.

As this quirky, clever app has shown, as far as quality children’s book publishing is concerned, books can now go the extra mile. Their journey still begins with an original concept, then the words, maybe pictures, an editorial process and eventual publication. Traditionally this has marked the end of the journey – albeit one that continues in the mind of the reader. Yet now, the published book can go through an additional creative process; one that requires more thought, patience, imagination and vision. A digital makeover that takes the book beyond the confines of four-sided objet to another, even more engaging, level. And this is something that the team behind The Heart and the Bottle have achieved.  But does this version of the book still appeal to those it was written for? This morning my 6 year old and 3 year old were fighting over whose turn it was to have a go, so on that basis alone, the answer is a resounding yes. An app with heart.

The Heart and the Bottle for iPad

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4 Responses to “The Heart and the Bottle: An app with a heart”

  1. Luke, Bold Creative Says:

    January 7th, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    Hi Miranda,

    Thanks for this review; I’m delighted to hear both yourself and the little critics are getting lots out of the App :)

    I think you’re right about the relevance of the storyline to the new world of digitisation – Just like the girl in the story we’ve seen some unparalleled responses of curiosity & wonderment from the children we’ve had the pleasure of using it with.

    The possibilities on the iPad are truly astonishing. Like the capacity to offer children interaction that engages them on many different levels. What has really interested us however, is how the App is being used by
    parents & teachers
    to help with reading or to approach new subjects. The Heart & The Bottle could be used to explore loss & bereavement with children for example.

    We are extremely excited this is the start of great things to come. Please look out for our future App releases at We hope to build on the success of The Heart & The Bottle and find even bolder and more innovative ways to present the stories that we all share and love.

  2. Steffen Says:

    January 8th, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Yesterday night I have bought this app … I successfully have installed the app … unfortunately it does not work. Every time I want to use the app it opens (turned around, say the top is at the bottom) then it turns horizontally … the screen turns black and the app is closed again … it looks and feel like a bug.

    Do I have to customize some settings?
    Thanks for your help

  3. John Cunliffe Says:

    January 10th, 2011 at 8:17 am

    Though I liked the illustrations, and the interactivity in this app, I hate the idea of the girl putting her heart in a bottle, which she hangs round her neck. I think it a ghastly and frightening image to present to young children, and that it is irresponsible of the publishers to publish it and to make an app of it. The story could surely have been told without that element ?

  4. Miranda West Says:

    January 19th, 2011 at 7:45 pm

    Thanks for comments
    Luke: we look forward to seeing more from you guys.
    Steffen: this has been flagged to the technical team. Mine crashed out a couple of times too.
    John: For us maybe, but I think the younger the child the less literal their interpretation. They associate the heart with emotion and the image perhaps helps them to understand that the girl has to put her emotions away for a while.
    Incidentally a good insight into creative process of Jeffers can be found here:


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