For children, there may be nothing more difficult to understand than a parent or loved one having to go to war. The time apart can feel like an eternity. And of course, there are many questions that go unanswered.
In Year of the Jungle, author Suzanne Collins connects with young readers by sharing her own story of fear and longing after her father goes off to war in Vietnam. Forced to stay behind, The Hunger Games series author details her struggle to understand what her father’s absence means for her and her family. With beautiful and engaging illustrations, the book not only speaks to young readers who have experienced loved ones going to war, but to any student who has spent a significant amount of time away from a parent.
The longing Suzy feels for her father, and the resulting uncertainty, are constant themes depicted both through words and illustration. Longing and uncertainty are also emotions every student has felt on some level. Reading Year of the Jungle offers an opportunity for teachers to connect with students and help them understand Suzy’s experience of longing for her father in relationship to their own experiences. Here are a few prompts you can use to begin a conversation with your students to help them understand what it means to long for a loved one, and the uncertainty that arises:
1. How does Suzy’s father connect to his daughter while he’s away at war?
2. Describe the 4 jungles portrayed in the book. How are they different? How do they reflect the emotions Suzy is feeling?
3. How does the jungle transform as the story progresses?
4. Why do you think the jungle is illustrated in black and white?
5. Why do you think grownups “act funny, sad, or worried or angry” when Suzy tells them her father is in Vietnam?
6. What happens on Halloween to make Suzy feel worried about her father?
After class discussion, consider rereading the book aloud to your students and ask them to pay special attention to the story’s illustrations. Just as Suzy’s experience trying to make sense of her father’s deployment is so wonderfully illustrated, ask your students to spend some time drawing or painting about a time they’ve longed for a loved one or missed a parent. Encourage them to reflect on the emotions they felt during that time and help them come up with ideas on ways to represent their experience visually.