YEAR OF THE JUNGLE:
Memories From The Home Front
Written by Suzanne Collins
Illustrated by by James Proimos
Resharing a post of this special picture book and honoring all those who have served our country on Veteran’s Day.
– A New York Times Editor’s Choice.
On the eve of Veteran’s Day 2013 (once known as Armistice Day) readers will appreciate having Suzanne Collins’ Year of The Jungle: Memories From The Home Front to share with youngsters. Finding an appropriate story that deals with war or a parent’s absence for any reason is not always easy to find. Collins’ picture book, based on her own childhood, is more than appropriate. It’s moving, meaningful and makes me so very thankful for the sacrifices of our military. Veteran’s Day isn’t about the shopping, or the sales, it’s about honoring all service men and women and supporting their families.
Year of The Jungle does just that. The Hunger Games author pulls from her past and uses little, red-headed Suzy as the narrator. Suzy says we’re all something special from Rascal the cat, Kathy the oldest sister, Drew the only boy, to sister Joanie, the only one with “brown eyes like my dad’s.” He’s gone off to a war she doesn’t understand and through her eyes we learn how frightening it is for a child when they don’t have all the details. What really hit home for me is that Collins has written about the Viet Nam war, a war I grew up with and also did not completely understand. Suzy’s been told her father will be gone for a year, but wonders how long is that?
Proimos’ illustrations help ground the book in a children’s world so no pictures are disturbing, but rather just thought provoking. When Suzy hears her dad will go to the jungle, her only connection to that is her favorite cartoon character who lives in the jungle. In that world a jungle is not a dangerous place. The postcards her father sends from Viet Nam (i.e. for the start of school) help move the story forward, but when they stop, the tension in the story builds. Together with Collins’ simple sentences and Proimos’ pictures we read there’s no candy hearts for Valentine’s Day, Shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day, no Easter eggs. The seasons pass by with no correspondence from Viet Nam. When at last a postcard arrives, it ends with these serious and scary words for one so young, “Pray for me.”
I recall as a child being unable to handle seeing the awful images of war on television night after night. When Suzy catches a broadcast showing explosions, helicopters and guns on TV it’s too much for her, as well. She hides and cries and we feel her pain. Suddenly that playful jungle she’s imagined is full of tanks, helicopters and menace. So much time has passed, too, that Suzy remarks she finds it hard to remember what her dad looks like. “I stare into Joanie’s melted-chocolate brown eyes to try and find him.”
When Suzy’s father finally returns home during the summer, he’s tired and thin and “his skin has turned the color of pancake syrup.” Is he okay? We don’t really find out all the details. “Some things have changed but some things will always be the same.” Children reading the story or having it read to them will feel reassured that Suzy’s dad has come back and that’s all that matters. An autobiographical picture book like Year of The Jungle is a great resource to have on hand to help youngsters open up and explore feelings they might otherwise not have been able to address.
- Reviewed by Ronna Mandel