Year of the Jungle by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Proimos
Collins, author of The Hunger Games series, takes on a completely different writing challenge in this autobiographical picture book. Suzy’s father is sent to fight in Vietnam when she is a little girl. He will be gone for a year, but Suzy isn’t sure exactly how long a year is. At first, her father sends lots of friendly postcards, but over time they change. He even mixes up her birthday with her sister’s something he would never have done if he was home. The the postcards stop altogether and Suzy catches a glimpse of the war on TV. She starts to forget what her father looks like and is scared of many things. Then suddenly, her father is home. But he doesn’t look the same and doesn’t act quite the same either.
This book is so timely for children dealing with deployments in their own family. Collins writes directly from her childhood persona, delving right into the fears that haunt children, the loss of control and the lack of contact. It is her writing that makes this book work, her honesty about her emotions and the frankness with which she grapples with the challenges of having a parent fighting overseas.
Proimos’ illustrations are cartoony and rough. The most successful are double-spreads that take on Suzy’s fears directly, placing them on a black landscape that is filled with tanks, animals, helicopters, and more. They emanate danger and contrast directly with the more colorful other pages.
Though the book is about Vietnam, it has a universal message for children left behind worried about a deployed parent. Timely and honest, this is a book that belongs in every public library. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Scholastic Press.