YEAR OF THE JUNGLE
65TH ANNUAL CHRISTOPHER AWARD FOR BOOKS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
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"In this picture book, Collins sensitively examines the impact of war on the very young, using her own family history as a template. Suzy is the youngest of four children—Proimos draws her with impossibly big, questioning blue eyes and a mass of frizzy red hair—and she is struggling to understand the changes in her family. “My dad has to go to something called a war,” she explains. “It’s in a place called Viet Nam. Where is Viet Nam? He will be gone a year. How long is a year? I don’t know what anybody’s talking about.” When Suzy learns that her father is in the jungle, she imagines something akin to the setting of her favorite cartoon (Collins suggests it’s George of the Jungle). As the months wear on, though, Suzy begins to piece together the danger her father is in, whether it’s through the increasingly unnerving postcards he sends (one reads, “Pray for me,” in closing) or by catching a snippet of wartime violence on the news. “Explosions. Helicopters. Guns. Soldiers lie on the ground. Some of them aren’t moving.” In four wordless spreads, Proimos makes Suzy’s awakening powerfully clear, as the gray jungle she initially pictured (populated by four smiling, brightly colored animals) gives way to a more violent vision, as the animals morph into weapons of war. Just when Suzy’s confusion and fear reach an apex: “Then suddenly my dad’s home.” As in Collins’s Hunger Games books, the fuzzy relationship between fear and bravery, and the reality of combat versus an imagined (or, in the case of those books, manufactured) version of it is at the forefront of this story. By the final pages, Suzy has come to understand that “Some things have changed but some things will always be the same.” It’s a deceptively simple message of reassurance that readers who may currently be in Suzy’s situation can take to heart, whether their loved ones return changed, as hers did, or don’t return at all. Ages 4–up."
--Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW
"Suzanne Collins, author of the famously bloody “Hunger Games” trilogy, has written a picture-book memoir about what life at home is like for a child whose father has gone away to war. Collins’s own father went to Vietnam the year she turned 6, and she’s said the experience had a profound effect on him. 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. “Year of the Jungle” is narrated by a little red-haired girl named Sue, whose father reads her poems by Ogden Nash. Her favorite is about a dragon named Custard that “keeps crying for a nice safe cage.” Sue thinks that while Custard “always feels afraid, he is really the bravest of all. And that’s what makes him special.” When her father leaves for Vietnam, Sue must follow Custard’s example. The year “goes on and on.” Sue waits. She measures the passing of time by the arrival of a turkey, a Christmas tree, shamrocks and colored eggs. There is a postcard with a picture of Saigon, then one with a picture of a Vietnamese fisherman. The children watch their mother, worried she might be “going to the jungle, too,” but she stays. Sue’s initial impression of the jungle is positive. Her “favorite cartoon character lives in a jungle,” and she thinks she’d like to go to Vietnam to find her father. She will fly there. “You can fly anywhere in your dreams.” But over the course of the year, the dream begins to darken. The postcards stop coming. Then Sue’s father sends her a birthday card when it isn’t her birthday, and she begins to realize that “the jungle must be a very confusing place” for her father to have made “such a serious mistake.” One day, she watches graphic footage of the war on television, and her mother rushes in to turn off the set. Sue is afraid, but she doesn’t have the language to describe her fear. She hides in the closet to cry alone. While Sue is not able to formulate her feelings in words, James Proimos’s excellent illustrations capture her confusion. In one image, Sue imagines the landscape of Vietnam as a place with green elephants shooting white blobby monsters from their trunks and yellow goblins rising from coffee cups, while a rhino-shaped helicopter floats overhead. This visual nightmare mirrors a child’s skewed perception of war so well that it is clear Sue is going through her own version of hell. At the end of the year, Sue’s father returns, “tired and thin,” his skin “the color of pancake syrup.” He “stares into space. He is here but not here.” “Some things have changed,” Sue reflects, “but some things will always be the same.” In other words, bad things happen, but life goes on. “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. Children are sure to ask why Sue’s father went away, and why he was different when he returned. Maybe some frank discussions about war, ones that involve more than stories about courageous dragons, will help children better understand what military service entails. “Year of the Jungle” brings up big questions. Parents will need to provide the answers ."
--The New York Times, Danielle Trussoni
"Suzanne Collins' autobiographical picture book, Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front, seems a sharp departure for the author of The Hunger Games, the best-selling dystopian trilogy. But in a reassuring and deceptively simple way, Jungle, aimed at readers 4 and up, continues Collins' exploration of the effect of war and violence on kids. In Hunger Games, for readers 12 and up, teens are forced to kill or be killed as part of state-sponsored entertainment. In Collins' first fantasy series, the Underland Chronicles, for readers 8 and up, two kids fall into an underground world on the brink of war. Jungle (Scholastic), illustrated by James Proimos,is narrated by Suzy, a frizzy-haired, big-eyed first grader whose dad is sent "to something called a war" in a "place called Viet Nam." Suzy confesses, "I don't know what anybody's talking about." When she hears Vietnam is a jungle, she thinks of a cartoon set in a jungle where elephants and apes pal around. Reality intrudes when Suzy accidentally sees a TV news report from Vietnam with explosions, guns and soldiers on the ground. "Some of them aren't moving," she reports. Her worst fears are conveyed without words, just Proimos' paintings. Suzy's dad returns home, just as Collins' own dad, an Air Force officer, did in 1968. Collins offers no moralizing on war, just a vivid reminder of what it's like to be young and innocent in a world that's not. I can see a lot of kids whose parents are in someplace called Afghanistan — or another confusing place — identifying with Suzy."
--USA Today, Bob Minzesheimer, 3 1/2 OUT OF 4 STARS
"First-grader Suzy’s father is in the jungles of Vietnam for a year. Through a tightly controlled child’s point of view, readers live the year with little Suzy in the sheltered world her parents have built for her. She understands little at first, imagining romps in the jungle with elephants and apes. Her father sends her postcards every so often with cheery scenes of the tropics. Eventually, the postcards stop coming. She misses her dad, especially when her brother takes over some of her father’s duties, like reading the comics or Ogden Nash’s poems to her. One day, the wall of protection is broken by the television, with frightening visions of explosions, helicopters, guns and dead soldiers. Her mother whisks her away, too late. Proimos’ ink-and-digital art, in his signature cartoon style, adds needed humor to a frankly scary story that honors Suzy’s experience and respects those who share it. Occasional full-page wordless spreads allow readers to see into Suzy’s mind, beginning with her flying through the jungle and leading up to her post-epiphany anxiety about tanks and helicopters and rifles. With a notable lack of patriotic rhetoric or clichés 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. (Picture book. 4-10)."
--Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
"Collins mines her own experience to tell a tender, personal story of war seen through a child’s eyes. Firstgrader Suzy’s father is deployed to Viet Nam. At first, though she misses him, she dreams of the exotic jungle. But as the year goes on, marked by Christmas trees and candy hearts, things get harder. His postcards arrive less and less frequently, while news of the war, and its real dangers, comes more and more often. In the end Suzy’s father returns, and while some things are different, some things are the same. Collins’ unflinching g 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. While small, personal details and specific references to Viet Nam fix the story in one child’s individual experience, it is these very particularities that establish the kind of indelible and heartfelt resonance to be universally understood. Indeed, children missing parents in all kinds of circumstances will find comfort here."
--Booklist, STARRED REVIEW
"This moving picture book recounts, through the author’s eyes as a child, the year of her father’s military tour of duty in Viet Nam. The youngest of four kids growing up in a safe, loving family, Suzy is first seen listening to her dad read Ogden Nash’s poem about Custard, the dragon who stays brave despite his inner fears. Thus the stage is set for her father’s imminent deployment. In this pre-Internet world, his postcards provide tenuous but tangible connections as the first grader tries to comprehend what a jungle is, what her father is doing there, and the passage of time (“Has it been a year yet?”). But Suzy’s concerns increase when Dad confuses her birthday with a sister’s, and then the postcards cease. When one abruptly surfaces, Dad signs it, “Pray for me.” (She does, “very hard.”) Television news and a near-drowning incident during a swimming lesson feed the child’s anxieties. Suddenly, Dad is home, “tired and thin… his skin… the color of pancake syrup.” Suzy struggles to articulate her harbored fears, which he gently allays, and the two resume reading about Custard, whose stoicism surely resonates more deeply for them. Vibrantly colored cartoon illustrations, outlined in thick black ink, underscore a child’s point of view. The characters’ enormous eyes and boldly colored pupils provide an arresting motif. Suzy’s increasingly haunted imaginings, depicted on spreads of painterly gray tones with bursts of color, stand in stark visual contrast to the narrative text and illustrations framed by generous white space. The author’s spot-on memories paired with child-friendly art create a universal exploration of war and its effect on young children, ideally shared with and facilitated by a sensitive adult."
--School Library Journal
"Collins, well known for her middle-school and YA fantasies, offers here a radical change of pace in this picture book story inspired by her own childhood, documenting the year young Suzy’s father goes off to the Vietnam War. At first, the prospect doesn’t sound all that bad to a rising first-grader with little grasp of time; how long could one year be? Additionally, Dad is headed for the jungle, and some of Suzy’s favorite animals live (at least by her reckoning) in the jungle. A year turns out to be a very long time, though, especially when postcards come only sporadically, people’s efforts at cheering her up only fill her with heretofore unconsidered anxieties, and Dad’s brief missives seem increasingly distanced and confused. Theirs is a happy-ish ending—Dad does come home, although “he looks different. Tired and thin and his skin has turned the color of pancake syrup. . . . He stares into space. He is here but not here.” Collins’ text is simple, but it’s rich in the telling details that establish the pervasive fear (“So many things are scary now”) that spills over into other aspects of the little girl’s life—getting a birthday card from Dad that should have gone to her sister, being showered with too much Halloween candy from a sympathetic neighbor, having a terrifying experience of being tossed into a local swimming pool. Proimos’ ink-lined, digitally colored illustrations are the pitch-perfect tonal complement to Collins’ narration, with the family portrayed as wide-eyed, childlike cartoons that carry on with daily life in crayon-bright hues, while young Suzy’s angst-filled imaginings take shape in full-spread, full-bleed gray-tone scenes that twist her innocent favorite animals into recurrent nightmarish motifs and symbols of war. With text and illustrations that invite close reading, this will be a powerful title to share with children well beyond picture-book age. EB"
--The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, STARRED REVIEW
"Hunger Games trilogy author Suzanne Collins reverts to her years writing for youth television programming like Scholastic Entertainment's Clifford's Puppy Days for Year of the Jungle, her latest book release for her youngest audience yet. To her, it's the perfect age for kids to begin digesting the complicated concept of war. Suzy, the protagonist in the autobiographical picture book, is based on a 6-year-old Collins and her family during the year her father was deployed in Vietnam. Suzy refers to it as Viet Nam and envisions it as the "jungle," but what appears as a picturesque backdrop in children's cartoons soon morphs into a terrifying place, especially as images of the first televised war creep into her family's home. She begins to understand where her father is, and why exactly he asks her to "Pray for me." For three years, Collins thumbed through postcards and gifts her father gave her while he was overseas. "I felt like there was a story here, but every time I tried to visualize the book, I drew a blank," says Collins. "My fear was, with the subject matter, that the impulse would be to make the art dark and very serious." Seasoned illustrator and close friend James Proimos captures childlike fascination and fear when transforming the jungle from a home for friendly animals to a field for frightening war tools. The book also reassures readers that despite any parent's absence, their love for their children will never leave. "I hope people will read the book, even if they don't have a deployed family member, even if they're not part of a military family," says Collins. "Maybe it will help some kids understand what other kids might be going through if they have a parent deployed overseas."
--The Hollywood Reporter
"YEAR OF THE JUNGLE is a moving, personal account of how it feels to have a parent off at war when you're too young to understand what war means or how long a year is. Little Suzy is confused and misses her dad terribly, delighting in his postcards and praying for his return, and using her imagination to picture him in the jungle. She's also a regular, smiley kid with a cat, two older siblings, and a friend she draws with. Collins deftly balances the fear and freakout of a little girl who learns her dad's in danger with the upbeat, optimistic portrayal of a kid going about the business of being a kid. James Proimos' cartoony illustrations are more reassuring and funny than scary. But there's one imagined war scene (with images of guns, tanks, airplanes, explosions), and he clearly expresses Suzy's fear and worry when her eyes get very big, in one case filling nearly the whole page."
--Common Sense Media, 5 OUT OF 5 STARS
"In the last book of the "Hunger Games" trilogy, author Suzanne Collins offered a bleak vision of war that felt personal. Now we know the source. In "Year of the Jungle" (Scholastic, $17.99, ages 4 and older), Collins writes a child's-eye memoir of life during her father's tour in Vietnam (with illustrations by James Proimos). Soldiers who go to war leave questions for families to live with -- Where are they? What are they experiencing? Are they alive? -- and children are experts at filling in gaps. The little girl hears her father is in the jungle, so she imagines the jungle she knows from cartoons. The illustrations show how clues from the adult world feed her worries. She is a thinker, and when her father arrives home, changed, she finds a way to reach him."
"Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Proimos (Scholastic £10.99), is an unusual, brave autobiographical experiment from the author of The Hunger Games. It is about the year Collins's father was deployed to Vietnam when she was a child. It's not sensational but nor does it evade the emotional issues involved. When "worried ladies" (presumably friends of her mother's) tried to reassure her about her father – "your dad will be just fine" – and gave her extra sweets, it had the unsurprising effect of making her suddenly worried. Proimos ingeniously uses jungle pictures to illustrate her emotions. When her father returns: "He is here but not here." Not an uncontroversial read yet not to be missed. (5+)."
-- The Guardian/The Observer
"A masterful picture book excels at revealing a young child’s experience during the year her father is away at war. Suzy’s dad has to go to a place called Viet Nam. She imagines flying in the jungle—her favorite cartoon is set in a jungle—with her cat, Rascal. She is the youngest in a family determined to shelter her from things she’s not ready to understand. But they can’t protect her from good intentions. When she tells people her dad’s in Viet Nam, they get worried. At Halloween, “One of the worried ladies says, ‘Your dad will be just fine,’ and gives me way too much extra candy. I start to feel worried, too.” Over the year there are many unsettling events. One of her dad’s postcards says “Pray for me.” He sends her a birthday card in winter, but her birthday is in summer. She accidentally sees a news report about Viet Nam. “Later I hide in the closet and cry.” The postcards stop. Suzy’s flights of imagination become darker, tainted by fear she can’t express. It’s only when her dad returns that she can finally speak that fear, if indirectly, when she tells him, “Rascal didn’t think you were coming back.” Suzanne Collins mines her own childhood memories, transforming them with tremendous skill into a story that is resonant and truthful and timeless and remarkably child-centered. James Proimos’s illustrations are stylistically simple but wisely executed, full of sensitivity and power and poignancy, along with occasional moments of whimsy (that cat!)."
-- Cooperative Children’s Book Center