the alphabet of the human heart

The Alphabet of the Human Heart: The A–Zen of Life

Quick Overview

A handbook for the happy, and a bible for the broken-hearted, The Alphabet of the Human Heart is an enchanting and enriching journey through the upside and the downside of what it means to be human – our hopes and our fears, our strength and our weakness, our highs and our lows.

The Alphabet of the Human Heart is a book of literally two halves. Firstly there is upside A-Z, which is full of the happy and hopeful aspects of our lives, such as A is for Adventure, through G is for Gratitude, S is for Smile to Zen is the Place to Be. The other downside half examines the negative parts of our character lives and how we can overcome them to lead more positive and fulfilling lives. From A is for Anger, through H is for Hate, T is for Temptation to once again end on Zen is the Place to be.

Matthew and James have been friends for over 30 years and they've experienced both sides of life – the upside and the downside – and they've turned their experience of life – and of friendship – into a book that combines words and pictures to tell a bigger story.

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Health Professional Review

Health Professional Reviewer: Clare Greensmith, Registered Psychotherapist. Reviewed 2 October 2015.

Book Title: The Alphabet of the Human Heart.

Author: The book states that it is a compilation following 30 years of friendship between the author and the illustrator.. Matthew Johnstone has written several books of this style, and is his fifth book including “I had a black dog”.

Date published: 2009

Suitable for: All.

Problems addressed: 

Emotions, emotional expression and emotional balance.

Book Summary: 

This picture book is divided into two sections – both sides lead through an A to Z of human emotions, experiences and strategies – one side from a more ‘unhelpful feeling’ perspective and one from a more ‘helpful feeling’ perspective.  The two halves meet in the middle at a page entitled ‘zen;’ which defines this concept. The book is turned over and read from the outer cover on the opposite side of the book.

 Strengths and Weaknesses:

The book is very readable with line illustrations which provide a helpful context for the writing. It would be possible to read half of the book at a time if it is hard to concentrate for long periods of time.

The format of the book suggests that there are helpful and unhelpful feelings which may work well for some readers, but may not assist all readers. It is described as the highs and lows of life which frames this in a neutral way.


A person who is interested in thinking more about the effect of their feelings, thoughts and behaviour in everyday ways and suggestions of simple practices which may assist them.


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