Thursday 13 February 2014

Year of the Jungle

Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Proimos (Scholastic Australia)
HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 978-0-545-42516-2
Reviewed by Jenny Heslop

Suzy’s dad has to go to something called a war in Vietnam for a year. She is not really sure what that means but she imagines the jungle like a favourite cartoon, looks forward to his post cards and keeps an eye on Mum (just in case she is thinking of going to the jungle too). But Mum and the rest of Suzy’s family stay home as first grade starts. Halloween, Christmas, birthdays and all the other landmarks of the year pass. Until one day, Dad is home again.

Sometimes it’s the simply told stories which are felt deeply and this is one that does that so well. It is a personal story, an autobiographical picture book about the author’s childhood, but it is also a story about growth, change and missing a loved one.

Told from the point of view of a six year old, the simple, clear and very clever text pulls on the heart strings.

“It’s snowing and I get a birthday card. My birthday isn’t until summer. The card should be for Joanie. My mom says my dad’s busy and just got confused. The jungle must be a confusing place for him to make such a serious mistake.”

Suzy’s slow awakening during the year, through news snippets and Dad’s postcards, to what is happening is interpreted wonderfully by the illustrator. The bright friendly pictures contrast with ones which show how Suzy is imagining the jungle and they get darker and scarier as her awareness grows. It has great impact.

The story starts and ends with the same paragraph about her dad reading Suzy poems by a man named Ogden Nash. But after experiencing the story in-between, that one paragraph means so much more.

Year of the Jungle is subtitled Memories from the Home Front and that is what the story is about, those at home, not those at war. This picture book sensitively explores the impact war has on families and the very young. However it is probably for school aged children, not preschoolers.

I love this book and each time I read it I love it a little bit more.

Suzanne Collins is the bestselling author of The Hunger Games trilogy.

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