PPBF: Year Of The Jungle

I am so very excited about today's PPBF title that I can hardly stand it. I connected with it because my heart aches for the families of men and women who are called to serve in faraway lands and I'm thrilled to have found this sensitive personal narrative about that experience for my shelves. I've seen firsthand the emotional toll that having a deployed parent can take on a child. I've held many a child's hand as he/she worries and frets about how their parent is doing, where exactly they are, what they're eating, if they're safe, and when they'll be back home. And I've even heard them wonder out loud why their loved one 
had to go away in the first place.

Enter Year Of The Jungle by Suzanne Collins. 
Back in 1968, nobody really explained to little Suzy much about her dad going to 
a place called Viet Nam.

Title: Year Of The Jungle
Author: Suzanne Collins
Illustrator: James Proimos
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Date: September 10, 2013
Suitable for ages: 4 and up (I would cautiously say 7 and up)
Themes: military, fear, courage
Brief synopsis: Based on the real-life experience of the author as an eight-year-old, this treasure explores the thoughts and feelings of a young child whose father is sent off to the jungle to something called a war.

Opening page: My dad reads me poems by a man named Ogden Nash. My favorite is about a dragon named Custard. Even though he always feels afraid, he is really the bravest of all. And that's what makes him special.

Watch a Scholastic interview with author & illustrator {here}.
Read a New York Times review {here}.
Grab some enrichment ideas from Common Sense Media {here}.
Read Nash's Tale Of Custard The Dragon {here}.
*Use this poem as an opportunity to discuss courage and bravery. 
Click {here} to watch Priority Mail, a news clip about helping military families.

Why I like this book: This book left me feeling so convicted about the phrase Freedom is not free! War leaves so much fallout, so many casualties - literally and figuratively - in its wake. In my son's confirmation class, I watched as an eighth-grade girl sobbed and physically trembled through her faith statement because of how it shakes her to the core each and every time her father deploys. 

In this picture book by the author of The Hunger Games, young Suzy starts out thinking it's kind of cool that her dad will be going to the jungle just like some of her favorite cartoon characters. She's even seen flying with her cat, smiles on their faces, over the ocean toward a friendly forest. But as the days turn into months and the seasons pass, postcards come fewer and farther between and Suzy's emotions vacillate from confused to worried to terrified. The illustrator does an amazing job conveying those changing feelings in his black and white jungle scenes with Suzy and the animals. And when Dad suddenly returns, Suzy must face the reality that 
"He is here but not here."

Pause. Breathe. Again.
I know, right?

Every year, we do something special for our servicemen and women. In the past five years, it's been not only a letter-writing campaign to send notes of gratitude during the holidays, but also a collection of basic-need items and some pamper-me things just for fun. 

Anyway, I especially love that elementary school children would work to earn the money that they'd need, then go shopping and buy these things for someone they'll likely never meet. 
To express gratitude and appreciation.

I hope this video clip works for you; this first grader actually did chores to earn money that she could shop with to pick out the stuff she wanted to bring. Can't you just feel her joy?

The past three years, we've also donated our surplus Trick-Or-Treat candy to the troops through Operation Gratitude. It's so gratifying to share our stash with those who serve.

As difficult as it is to do sometimes, we must make a point to stop and say thank you when we see a man or woman in a military uniform. And their families deserve our gratitude, too. Click the picture below to read about the surprise homecoming that this little one got from his father a few years back.

Finally, ask your students to put themselves in each of these character's shoes. What would it be like to be the dad? What kinds of things do you suppose he misses while he's away? Why is his face so distorted when he returns? What would it be like to be Suzy back then? How about now? What about the brother or sister? And the mom? And try to imagine being Rascal. 

There's so much more you could do with this new book. 
When you think of something else, 
I'd love for you to share your reflections below.


  1. Looks terrific, thanks. And for sharing the homecoming link.

    1. My pleasure, Julie. There are a few moments that are indelibly etched in my heart and this is one of them ... I will NEVER forget little Lance jumping up as he exclaimed with JOY, "I'm his son!"

  2. I rad this one and it's a tough subject to share with little ones. I agree with saving it for older picture book readers.

    1. Thank you, Wendy, for validating my concern about the age range. I'm thinking a 2nd grader and up might really get it better. So emotional!

  3. This subject is near and dear to me. There are a number of books out there about kids who have parents deployed, but this is the first one I've seen about the Viet Nam war. I listened to the author talk on the video about her experience as a child. This sounds like a beautiful book. And, I liked what you shared for activities and resources. Great photos.

    1. Pat, I just KNEW you'd like it ... it's just. so. real! And the illustrator just sealed the deal with his poignant picts!

  4. So interesting that the same author who wrote this poignant book also penned the "Hunger Games". I admire your sensitivity to those in the military and their families. I, too, try to thank all those I can for their service to our country.

    1. I didn't read the Hunger Games so I don't have the comparison, Jarm. She's done a good job of remembering and sharing!

  5. I just read this one last week. It was disturbing and yet remarkable. I applaud the publishers for their courage and I hope it will do much good. Thank-you for your great ideas for supporting those who serve to support us here at home. Great choice!

    1. Scholastic must be pretty sure there's a market for it. I know that I'm very excited as a counselor for another tool! Thank you, Joanne, for stopping by the Corner.

  6. Wow. Just reading your description made me teary, Barbara. What a fantastic addition this is to our list. It's true, there are so many kids coping with this, and they need books like this. I'd very much like to read it! Thank you so much for sharing!

    1. I hope you can find a copy in your library. I was pleased that Barnes and Noble had a copy on the shelves and I didn't have to wait. I just LOVE the insight from Scholastic's interview with them!

  7. Wow, just wow! I am impressed that Suzanne Collins has followed up Hunger Games with such an amazing picture book! Great choice.

    1. Thank you, Joanna, for your visit to the Corner and for sharing your reflections. I'm always so tickled to be able to add a new title to our ever-growing list.

  8. This is on my list of books to read. I go to the library twice a week and get books out. I love non fiction picture books and this one seems so good.

  9. This looks like a tough read. I know how hard it is for me when my family is gone somewhere without me. Not knowing when they'll be back. It must be like that for military families. I just want to say that you are one incredible lady. Passing out all that JOY and goodness. Thanks for all that you do!


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!