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Book Review — ‘Year of the Jungle’ by Suzanne Collins

All day long, while you’re at school, you really miss your parents.

But that’s OK. You know you’ll see them in a few hours or a few days and it’ll be fun. You’ll get hugs and give kisses, make dinner together and read stories.

But some kids, though, they have to wait to see their Mom or Dad, and it might be a long time. In “Year of the Jungle” by Suzanne Collins, illustrated by James Proimos, you’ll see why.

Suzy, who was the youngest in her family, loved when her dad read poems to her. She particularly liked the ones about a dragon because he was “the bravest of all.” The dragon was special, and so was everybody in Suzy’s family.

But Suzy’s daddy had to go away for awhile. She knew he was going to a place called Vietnam, and someone said he’d be “in the jungle.” That reminded her of her favorite TV cartoon, which was about a jungle man who swings from a rope.

Her dad would be gone for a year. That seemed like a long time.

While he was gone, Suzy’s dad sent lots of postcards. He missed her first day of first grade. He wasn’t there to read the paper to her, or poems. He wasn’t around for Halloween or Thanksgiving, but he sent a Vietnamese lady doll home for Suzy’s Christmas present.

Suzy tried hard not to worry, even though grown-ups acted weird when they found out where her father was. She tried not to think about her dad in the jungle, until she got a birthday card from him and it was nowhere near her birthday. It was hard not to think about him after she saw a TV news report with explosions and hurt soldiers.

That made her cry.

It was a long year, but then her dad came home — just that quick!

He wasn’t quite the daddy that Suzy remembered. He looked tired, he was awfully thin and sometimes, he looked like he was thinking about the jungle.

He came home with gifts, but the best gift of all was having him home.

I really liked this book, but I struggled to determine its audience.

“Year of the Jungle” will be way better understood by grandparents than by children: author Suzanne Collins’ tale, for instance, touches upon pop-culture things that would resonate with people who were kids during the Vietnam War. Yes, today’s children know all about war and parents going away to fight one, but will they understand this story?

I think so.

Collins based her book on her own childhood recollections, and her memories of loss, worry and confusion are wisely innocent and timeless without being too scary. Illustrations by James Proimos help maintain that lack of frightfulness.

Overall, this is a grown-up-kids book that I think may actually be comforting to children whose parents are in the military because it assures them that “most people come back.” And for that, “Year of the Jungle” is one that neither of you should miss.

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“Year of the Jungle” by Suzanne Collins

c.2013, Scholastic $17.99 / $19.99 Canada 40 pages

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