Monday, November 18, 2013

Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Proimos

Back on April 10, 2011, an article appeared in the New York Times Magazine section about author Suzanne Collins.  I had just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy, so I sat down to read the article.  In the article, Collins said a lot of interesting things about war, but what resonated most with me  was the way she summed up so well what war, any war, feels like to the kids on the home front:
"If your parent is deployed and you are that young, you spend the whole time wondering where they are and waiting for them to come home, " she said.  "As time passes and the absence is longer and longer, you become more and more concerned - but you don't really have the words to express your concern.  There's only this continued absence."
I cut the article out and saved it.  You can read the entire article HERE

Now, Collins, best known for The Hunger Games trilogy, has written a picture book about her own experience as a 6 year old waiting for her father to return home after he was deployed to Vietnam.

Sue and her dad are close.  He reads Ogden Nash poems to her.  Her favorite is The Tale of Custard the Dragon, who is brave even when afraid.  Then one day, Sue's dad goes away to "something called a war.  It's in a place called Viet Nam" where there is a jungle.  The only jungle she knows about is the one where her favorite cartoon character lives and so Sue imagines that her dad is in a jungle like that.

Her dad will be gone for a whole year.  But, she wonders, how long is a year?  Turns out, it is pretty long when you are 6 and scared. 

Sue worries her mom may go away, too.  Pretty soon postcards start to arrive.  But on Halloween, when she gets too much candy from a lady who reassures her that her dad will be fine, Sue begins to worry.

Presents arrives for Christmas, but so does a birthday card at the wrong time of year.  Then, other holidays go by without any more postcards from her dad, until finally one arrives that asking her to "pray for me."

Eventually, it is summer vacation and Sue's dad returns home - but he just stares into space and isn't really there anymore.   In time, Sue's dad really does return home, but inevitably, some things have changed.

Year of the Jungle is one of the best books I have ever seen addressing what life is like when a young child has a parent away fighting in a war and s/he is too young to understand just what that means.  A year is a long, long time for a little girl to wait for her dad to come home from war.  In fact, it is a tough year for anyone with a deployed loved one.  But, as Collins said, it is hard for kids to express what they feel.  Remembering her own experience, she knows it is a year filled with with questions, worries, fear and separation anxiety and she has captured these mixed emotions beautifully.

The whimsical, cartoonlike illustrations, done with ink and Corel painter by James Proimos, gives the story just the right amount of emotional balance that is needed in an otherwise intense, serious story.

Year of the Jungle is a book that is bound to spark a lot of questions, especially from kids with a parent who is serving in Afghanistan.

The reason I chose to include this book for The Children's War is because it did remind me of Tomie dePaolo's  26 Fairmount Avenue: The War Years.  He was also able to capture the same emotions in his books 26 Fairmount Avenue: The War Years.  I think it is important to see that how children experience a parent away fighting in a war really doens't change from war to war.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was purchased for my personal library

Hear Suzanne Collins and James Proimos talk about how they decided on the illustrations in Year of the Jungle:

1 comment:

  1. I read the Gregor the Overlanor series by Suzanne Collins and I know I will be reading this one too. I like that it is from a child's point of view- definitely different than lots of books because of the topic and format. It sounds intense- but I bet it is a book that many kids can relate to because so many kids have a parent in the war. Thanks for sharing!