Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Early Reader Pick: Year of the Jungle

Year of the Jungle
by Suzanne Collins
Illustrations by James Proimos
Scholastic Press
40 pages

A New York Times Editors' Choice

“In this picture book, Collins sensitively examines the impact of war on the very young, using her own family history as a template."

--Publishers Weekly,STARRED REVIEW

“With a notable lack of patriotic rhetoric or clich├ęs about bravery and honor, Collins holds firm to her childhood memories, creating a universal story for any child whose life is disrupted by war. Important and necessary ."

--Kirkus Reviews,STARRED REVIEW

“Collins’ unflinching first-person account details the fears and disappointments of the situation as a child would experience them. And where more realistic illustrations would feel overwrought and sentimental, Proimos’s flat, cartoony drawings, with their heavy lines and blocky shapes, are sturdy and sweet, reflecting a child’s clear-eyed innocence."


“But though post-traumatic stress disorder is often spoken of these days, the more subtle effects of war on the children of men and women serving abroad are less well known. ....While Sue is not able to formulate her feelings in words, James Proimos’s excellent illustrations capture her confusion....'Year of the Jungle” may take place in the late 1960s, but with more than 2.3 million Americans deployed abroad between 2001 and 2012, the mixture of anxiety, excitement, fear, boredom and confusion Sue experiences on the home front will be sadly familiar to many children. For them, Collins’s picture book may be a good tool to discuss the complex feelings war brings into a household ."

--The New York Times

A father goes to war, a child is at home wondering if she will ever see her father again. She knows the jungle is where her favorite cartoon character lives so it can't be that scary. They tell her Viet Nam is where her father is and he is going to be away for one year. The child is unsure how long a year is. Her father sends her postcards from the jungle and photos, too. Christmas comes and her father sends her Vietnamese doll. It's winter and snowing outside when she receives a birthday card, but her birthday isn't until summer. Her mother tells her the card is probably for Joanie, her sister, and that her father is "...busy and just got confused." The child worries that her father makes "...such a serious mistake"--he must be very busy and confused. Television news shows scare her; there are men dying in Viet Nam, and her mother rushes to turn off the t.v. After a long time, the father finally comes home, but he acts a little strange at first.

Like Suzanne Collins, my father fought in the Viet Nam War. In fact, he spent three tours there since he was a real adrenaline junkie. Each time he left, we saw my mom worry. We saw the news every night on television. We wondered why my dad was in the jungle. We wondered when he was coming home. He sent home movies to us. My dad standing by his tent, my dad on a boat traveling up a yellow brown river, monkeys fighting and rice paddies. My dad waving and flexing his muscles with his buddies and everyone smiling. My dad always came home, but thousands of young Americans didn't and their kids were forever scarred. Today, thousands more American children have a parent or sibling on active duty either at home or in a war zone. The impact of Year of the Jungle will be felt by any child who has experienced a loved one in combat.

Illustrations by James Proimos are light-hearted and even whimsical even when depicting a helicopter or tank. The story may be frightning and awful, the main character worried and lost, but the artwork takes the painful story of Viet Nam and makes it tangible even to very young children. When the father returns, the girl says, "...I stand in the doorway watching him. He stares into space. He is here but not here. He is back in the jungle."

Highly, highly recommended for everyone. This book should have a place in every library and on every book shelf. It is an important book and will likely begin conversations about war and military service.

FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the F & G from the publisher. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review.

This review has been posted in compliance with the FTC requirements set forth in the Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising (available at ftc.gov/os/2009/10/091005revisedendorsementguides.pdf)


  1. I just ordered this book for school and another for each of my grandchildren.

    Kathy Spielman
    Yorba Linda Middle School
    Yorba Linda, CA 92886

  2. Kathy,
    That's awesome. It's a wonderful book! Pamela