The Jar of Happiness

posted in: Ailsa Burrows | 6

jarfrontcoverWhat recipes do you know for joy?

In The Jar of Happiness by Ailsa Burrows (@AilsaBurrows) Meg mixes together ingredients which bring her good cheer. The result is something which tastes “of chocolate ice cream, apple juice and sunshine” and smells of “warm biscuits and the seaside.” Meg’s generous with her jar of happiness, sharing it with friends and loved ones, but one day it goes missing. How will Meg find comfort and joy now?

A simple but utterly delightful, heartwarming and positive story, The Jar of Happiness not only encourages us all to reflect on what makes us happy, it also gently fosters empathy and unselfishness, showing how our actions can make a big difference (and how they may – fortuitously – repay us with interest in times of need). It will also make you laugh! Surely all these are excellent ingredients for a book at bedtime (or indeed, any time!)?


Innocent and uncomplicated, sharing this book is part of my current recipe for joy.

Burrows’ graceful text and generously spaced illustrations serve up big issues with a natural and easy lightness; Look closer, however, and there are many details which make this a powerful book. From the fact that Meg’s wearing trousers (it’s quite rare to see girls depicted this way, even in 21st century picture books), to her curiosity (experimenting as if in a science lab, and later using binoculars), via climbing trees and not being afraid to make a noise as Meg serenades her grandma, I’m reminded of Yasmeen Ismail’s I’m a girl – another truly fabulous book, but one which wears its themes more obviously on its sleeve.


Meg’s grandma – her Oma – and Meg’s good friend Zoe also quietly show us the world as it is: Diverse. And yet it’s done quietly without comment, showing us that this is just natural and normal in real life.

And yet in one regard it isn’t “normal” at all. To quote Betsy Bird from 2014:

Fewer than 10 percent of books published in 2013 [in the US] featured children of color, according to statistics gathered by the Cooperative Children’s Books Center.

Even more rare are the picture books that depict children making positive connections across racial differences [my emphasis/zt]. This absence sends a subtle message to children, as if we were telling them, “It’s okay to only play with children who are like you” or that “children like you don’t play with children who are racially different from you.”

It makes me really very happy to see The Jar of Happiness bucking this trend.

The Jar of Happiness is not an “issues” book. It’s simply a beguiling story, beautifully told. But woven throughout are all sorts of empowering, encouraging and essential subtleties, making this a particularly perfect picture book.


Now who could resist making their own glowing jar of happiness having read this delightful book? Here’s what we used to make ours:


We used watered-down PVA glue to stick the strips of tissue paper to our jam jars.




Once the glue was dry, we whispered happy thoughts into the jars and sealed them up with the top part of cheap solar lights. After a few hours’ charging our glowing jars were beaming our happy thoughts into the darkness!


Whilst making our jars of happiness we listened to:

  • Happy by Pharrell Williams. Did you know this has been turned into a picture book?
  • Hello Happiness Goodbye Loneliness by Buck Owens & The Buckaroos
  • Walkin’ Back To Happiness by Helen Shapiro

  • Other activities which might work well alongside reading The Jar of Happiness include:

  • The free downloadable activities created by the publisher to go with the book.
  • Making musical instruments out of jars. Not only can you use them as drums, but also as shakers and xylophones, by filling each up with a different amount of water (or jam!)
  • Exploring Do Nice, Be Kind, Spread Happy by Bernadette Russell and finding activities just right for you and your kids to spread a little happiness.

  • If you liked this post you might like these other posts by me:

  • Using jam jars as mini cauldrons for brewing up spells
  • Preparing ingredients for a story
  • Starting your own natural history museum at home
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    Disclosure: I was sent a free review copy of this book by the publisher.

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