Year of the Jungle

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
Year of the Jungle Book Poster Image
Moving yet upbeat story of girl with dad away at war.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows what it's like to be a kid whose parent is away from home fighting a war. 

Positive Messages

Keep hope alive that your loved ones will come home safe and sound from war. Remember those you love with cards and letters. Try to avoid exposing young kids to war images on television that could disturb them and cause them to worry about loved ones in the war. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Little Suzy, the narrator, is strong, positive, and creative. She's also open and honest about her feelings -- her anger when her dad mixes up when her birthday and about his not being there to teach her how to swim and missing the holidays; and her fear and concern that he could be hurt in the war or not come home at all. She's kind to him when he comes home, gets the sense that the war's still on his mind, and tries to show empathy. She delights in returning to their routine of reading their favorite story together. Her mom, grandmother, and siblings all appear to be kind, protective, and supportive. 

Violence & Scariness

One page depicts an imagined war scene with images of guns, tanks, airplanes, and explosions.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Year of the Jungle is Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins' autobiographical picture book that recalls how she felt as a little girl in 1968, when her dad was a soldier off fighting the Vietnam War. James Proimos' cartoony illustrations help keep the tone light and upbeat, but there's one page that depicts an imagined war scene (guns, tanks, airplanes, explosions), and little Suzy's fear and concern show when her big round eyes get very, very big. Her dad does come home uninjured, but she remarks in her narration, "He stares into space. He is here but not here. He is back in the jungle." The book offers a moving, kid's-eye view of how war can affect military families. Adults have a strong role to play in how kids understand war and their families' participation in it; the Sesame Street/USO project for Military Families is one resource you might want to check out. See more in our "External Sites" section of this review.

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What's the story?

Little Suzy knows her dad \"has to go to something called a war. It's in a place called Viet Nam.... He will be gone a year. How long is a year?\" She finds out it's very long when he misses holidays, birthdays, and her first communion. Someone says her dad will be in a jungle, so she pictures him playing with an elephant and an ape. But then she accidentally catches a TV news report about Viet Nam and sees \"Explosions. Helicopters. Guns. Soldiers lie on the ground. Some of them aren't moving.\" Her mom quickly turns it off, and Suzy doesn't say anything. \"Later I hide in the closet and cry,\" she recalls. These candid recollections of fear and confusion are based on author Suzanne Collins' own childhood, when her father was deployed to Vietnam in 1968.

Is it any good?

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 Poimos' 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. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about parents being away. Has your mom or dad ever spent time away from home? How did it make you feel? Were you worried about them coming back soon? 

  • What do you know about war? Do you know any soldiers, sailors, or people serving in the Air Force or Marines who are away from home? Can you imagine how their kids feel?

  • In Year of the Jungle, author Suzanne Collins tells a story about something that happened in her family when she was a kid and how she felt at that time. Tell a story about something that happened to you and try to remember and describe how you felt as you were going through it.

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