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Thursday, October 31, 2013

Year of the Jungle, written by Suzanne Collins and illustrated by James Proimos. Scholastic Press, 2013. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"My dad has to go to something called a war. 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. Then someone says he'll be in the jungle..."

The little red haired girl who narrates her own story goes on to say, "My favorite cartoon character lives in a jungle." This sentiment shows just what she cannot comprehend about her father's role in a distant war and what it might mean to the family. She is only six, and should not be able to understand the reality of their situation.

She knows that he is in a jungle and uses her prior knowledge to imagine him in a tropical environment where he might actually play with the animals there, just as she would love to do. But, a year is a very long time for a little girl. The postcards that came often in the beginning have dwindled and she doesn't hear from him much. When she does, he seems different. She recognizes feelings of anger and sympathy in the adults around her. As she thinks about what might be happening, the peace of her original perception changes.

Rather than seeing playful animals, leafy trees and feeling the peace of the jungle surroundings , those animals change and seem more like weapons. The absence of her father takes her down a gloomy path. For the writer it is a memory-filled look back at her father's days in Vietnam and how his life (and therefore his family's) was forever changed. It is a very difficult year for all involved.

Sue may not be able to express all that she is feeling, and fearing. So, James Proimos uses his brilliant works of art to help the book's audience experience the confusion. He uses ink and  Corel Painter to move his audience from the happy family home to Sue's dreamlike perception of the jungles of Vietnam to the endless days of waiting, until finally Sue welcomes her father home again, a changed man in some ways and exactly the same in others...and certainly brave.          

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