Identifying the Liminal Space Using Oliver Jeffer’s “The Heart and the Bottle”

The liminal can be a daunting space for students; many may experience feelings of discomfort, anxiety, uncertainty and vulnerability while inhabiting the space, while others may resist entering this space at all!

It is important for students to be able to name and identify the liminal domain and to realize that it is a necessary space in which to linger in order for growth and transformational learning to occur.

One excellent technique which can be employed to facilitate this is the use of children’s literature.


Figure 1. The heart and the bottle.

The Heart and the Bottle by the inimitable Oliver Jeffers (2010) is a picture book which explores a little girl’s journey through the liminal space as she deals with the loss of her father. Initially, the girl copes with the uncertainty and grief by symbolically “bottling up her heart”. While this appears to be the safest option, she soon discovers that to do so makes her life a bland, dreary existence which is devoid of colour and emotion. Eventually, she begins to experience “life” again when a younger girl unknowingly coaxes her to extricate her heart from the bottle.

Through a series of probing questions and exploration of the text, the teacher can help students identify the existence of the liminal space in the protagonist’s life and the many emotions this space evoked for her. This can then be extrapolated by discussing examples of liminal spaces that the students have personally experienced in the past, as well as considering the feelings that they experienced during the process. Not only will this enable students to identify the space, but it will also reassure them that feelings of uncertainty and anxiety are common and to be expected while inhabiting the liminal.

The book itself is a masterpiece. Jeffers uses conservation of text as a technique to coax the reader to extract meaning from the interplay between the illustrations and the printed word. Themes such as grief, loss, and suppression of emotions are reflected in the use of salience and colour in the illustrations, as well as careful and strategic language choices.

Students need to grasp the fact that like the little girl in the story, entering and dwelling in the liminal gives birth to rich although uncomfortable experiences, that ultimately give “colour” to their lives and learning.


Figure 1. The heart and the bottle. Retrieved from


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