In a Jar

Aren’t all of us collectors? If we are conscious of the lives we lead, we know we collect things. We treasure our partners, children, friendships, books, the myriad fine moments that make a life. But look even closer — “see a world in a grain of sand,” as William Blake would say — and see the little things many people take for granted. That’s what Deborah Marcero’s characters do in In A Jar.

The story opens, “Llewellyn was a collector. He collected things in jars.” He collects “small, ordinary things” — leaves, buttercups, feathers, heart-shaped stones. And less ordinary, less tangible things: the “cherry light” of a sunset, “the sound of the ocean,” “the wind just before snow falls.” And when he meets Evelyn, he gives her a jar, too.

But back up. Look at the book’s jacket. There are our rabbit protagonists, sitting in a field of bluebells. (At least I’m pretty sure that’s what they are; if Robin Smith were here, she could confirm that for me, but my daughter weighed in and agreed.) Flowers, tree shadows, bunny-ear shadows, and jars in hand. We can surmise where this story is going. ...

Look at the cover. Jars with found treasures in them. Back cover, too. But different treasures. (The world has more than enough treasures for two covers’ worth of jars.)

And the front endpapers — the green leaves of summer, giving way to autumn leaves. And the back endpapers continuing the orchestration of the seasons — fall to spring to summer. Blowing in the wind.

The title page. Like leaves, but butterflies, and Llewellyn reaching out for these airborne, flittery treasures of his world.

Marcero has a gift for color. That double-page spread where Llewellyn meets Evelyn is stunning, with that sky “the color of tart cherry syrup.” And the writing is perfect, too. (Marcero is a poet, after all.) And it’s the color contrasts that contribute to the overall effect — the shades of blues and greys, and the yellow-orange lights in the silhouetted houses. The next stunner is a few pages later, a page which, to me, seems like watermelon hues, with the silhouettes of our protagonists witnessing glory and ready to capture it in a jar. “They collected things you might not think would even fit in a jar. But somehow, they did.”

Marecero has done a fine job of mixing things up to keep the reader’s eye alert. Single pages, double-page spreads, panels, jars standing in for panels — I was amused on my first reading to see Llewellyn’s house with so many shelves of jars lining the walls, the world out there brought inside. There’s Saturn in a jar, somehow containing a universe, a popsicle, a lizard, a sleeping cat, a ball of yarn and knitting needles, a book, flowers, a kite.

In a Jar is a gorgeous celebration, in illustrations and words, of our world, a gentle nudge to notice all things bright and beautiful, the large and the small and the intangible. But it’s not just a catalogue of wonders. It is a charming story of friendship. And as the seasons change, so does the relationship of Llewellyn and Evelyn. When she moves away, Llewellyn is sad, but they send gifts to each other. Llewellyn sends her  a “meteor shower in a jar,” and she sends him “the sounds, the crowds, and the bright night lights of her new home.” The final double-page spread looks almost like the opening one, with Llewellyn collecting autumn leaves. But now he is collecting them to send to Evelyn, and he meets a little boy named Max. “Luckily, Llewellyn had brought an extra jar.”

Many years ago on an autumn evening, my young daughter Julie and I went on a nature walk around our neighborhood, consciously keeping track of sights and sounds and smells along our way, and she wrote a lovely poem about them, her poem akin to Llewellyn’s collection of jars.

Today's children, of course, notice and appreciate the world as Llewellyn and Evelyn do, as Julie did, and will also appreciate the wonders they notice in Marcero's illustrations. 

Let us know, in the comments, anything you especially appreciated in Llewellyn's and Evelyn's jars. 

Dean Schneider
Dean Schneider teaches seventh and eighth grades at the Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Renee Harris

My second and third grade students are enjoying this book immensely. They really like how on the page "They collected the wonders of winter," there is a fox in one of the jars. Then on the "and the newness of spring," page the fox has a baby fox. We have enjoyed discussing the different shaped jars as well as answering questions like, "Can you keep a rainbow in a jar?" What is Llewellyn really collecting. I love this book!

Posted : Jan 12, 2021 06:37


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