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pbernal's picture

Heartbeat, a novel written by Sharon Creech is a book unlike any other that I read growing up. I was never really the kind of child to read books outside of class and my parents never really encouraged the importance of books. It wasn’t until middle school, at age twelve that I came across Heartbeat and since then I’ve been in love with Sharon Creech’s work.

Heartbeat is a novel written in verse. It’s a short poetic novel narrated by twelve-year-old Annie about the changes happening around her environment and how she finds running to be an outlet to handle it all. The free verse written style in the novel is a reflection of Annie’s mood and how everything in her mind flows when she’s running and thinking.

Annie is a twelve-year-old girl trying to understand herself and her emotions, but at the same time the many different things changing around her life. In the beginning of the novel, she has no stability and is overwhelmed by the things in life she can’t seem to understand or control, like that of her grandfather developing dementia and growing old while her mother is expecting a new born child which seems completely bizarre to Annie because she’s an only child. Then there’s also the relationship with her best friend, Max who makes Annie question why she runs and explores the role that running plays into Annie’s life.

Through all the changes in Annie’s life, the only thing that seems to be stable is the assignment Miss Freely, their teacher, is making them do. Annie has to draw the same apple every day and at first she finds it pointless and doesn’t quite understand why of all things they have to keep drawing the same apple. As the novel continues, Annie learns that like the apple, things in life change everyday. She learns that change, like with the apple, was happening throughout her life and the relationships within her environment and rather than ignore those changes, she has to learn to adapt and grow to prepare for the new encounters in life.

Annie runs to cope with all the changes in her relationships with her family and her environment. She’s adjusting to being a preteen and running has always been a way for her to feel connected to her emotions, thoughts, and her surroundings. She enjoys nothing more but to run barefoot because it’s the only way she can feel the texture of the grass and the best way to feel her heartbeat thump with every step she takes while she runs. The wind, the feel of the bare earth is all that Annie loves to experience when she runs, the feel of euphoria.

Max, Annie’s best friend starts to develop different reasons to run. Growing up they both ran together in the parks and explored their community by running, without a worry in the world. But as they get older, their reasons to pursue running are shifting. Max shares with Annie that he runs to escape from all the problems in his life. He doesn’t have a strong family relationship like Annie does and he uses running to not think about anything and to be focused on only running which is why he later starts competing in races and Annie finds no enjoyment in competition. Max wants to focus on racing and avoid thinking about his surroundings, while Annie wants to run to think and feel connected to her environment. 


jccohen's picture

running and environment


This sounds like a great book that has really had an impact on you – do you think this has to do with the poetic style? That sense of change that’s so subtly evident through her daily drawing of the apple?  You do a very nice job of describing the book – the plot, key characters, and themes that clearly have a strong connection to the work of our class and 360 (e.g. her experience of running as a profound connection with the environment, her heartbeat as a kind of centering). 


Now I want you to go further to really analyze the book in terms of some of the key issues we’ve been reading and talking about.  A way to start would be to make connections between this book and some of the texts we’ve read; I think of the Daloz article on interconnection, for example, or maybe Sobel and the idea of having a “ditch”…  Perhaps this book suggests a powerful way into connection with the environment through our bodies, a theme that has come up some, as in Sobel, but you might want to make the argument that this needs to be more central in environmental education, since it’s a powerful way in for young people such as Annie.  Let’s talk about this more at our conference.