New Book from Suzanne Collins: Year of the Jungle

I’m guessing even very serious Hunger Games fans may have missed the news that Suzanne Collins has written another book — and that it was published this month! The title is Year of the Jungle: Memories from the Home Front and it is a children’s picture book with illustrations by James Proimos.

The name James Proimos is the answer to one of the more difficult Hunger games trivia questions. For more on that — and the importance of Custard the Dragon’s “eating the Pyrate,” read beyond the jump. Spoiler break —

Three quick notes about Year of the Jungle:

(1) The reason you haven’t heard of Jungle is that you probably don’t subscribe to the publishing trade journals that cover illustrated read-aloud children’s books. I think we can expect a lot more hype and roll-out thunder when Ms Collins finishes her next YA adult book or begins a new series of books. assuming that she does. Recall Don MacLean’s famous answer to the question “What does American Pie mean?” He responded, candidly and truthfully, I think, that his super-hit song meant “I will never have to work again.” Ms. Collins could probably say the same about the meaning of Hunger Games.

(2) Forgive for wondering if this collaboration with illustrator James Proimos is not a kindness on Ms Collins’ part. Mr. Proimos is not a staff artist at a major publishing house that was matched and assigned to this project but an acquaintance of some standing with Ms. Collins. How can we know that? If you have your copy of Hunger Games handy, crack it open to the dedication page. Yep, “For James Proimos.” At her web site’s biography page, she credits him with encouraging her to try her hand at YA fiction: “While working on a Kids WB show called Generation O! she met children’s author and illustrator James Proimos, who talked her into giving children’s books a try.” As successful as Proimos may be, I have to think his work on Year of the Jungle will reach a much larger audience than his previous work due to Ms Collins’ celebrity writer status and fan folowing. I know it’s the first picture book I’ve purchased in ten years!

(3) The book is forty pages long, begins and ends with the same message about an Ogden Nash poem whose hero is Custard the Dragon. “Even though he always feels afraid, he is really the bravest of all. And that’s what makes him special.” The narrator of the story is a new first grader and youngest child of a family with four children whose dad goes to Vietnam. Jungle tells the story of her growing apprehension about where her father is and when and even whether he will return. Ms Collins has made it clear that it is largely autobiographical and meant to be a support to military families with young children today. The wonderful blending of naive pictures and text achieve that purpose very well, I suspect, in a situation today’s super-mediated environment makes much more difficult than it was for the young Suzanne Collins in the late 1960’s.

And, for your delight, here is the Ogden Nash poem referred to but not quoted in Year of the Jungle. And, yes, by the way, the story makes it’s big turn on page 20 when the narrator finally realizes her father is in a dangerous place. It’s not a long work, but it is a ring of sorts and three act drama. What else?


By Ogden Nash

Copyright Linell Nash Smith and Isabel Nash Eberstadt

Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Now the name of the little black kitten was Ink,
And the little gray mouse, she called her Blink,
And the little yellow dog was sharp as Mustard,
But the dragon was a coward, and she called him Custard.

Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth,
And spikes on top of him and scales underneath,
Mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose,
And realio, trulio, daggers on his toes.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Belinda tickled him, she tickled him unmerciful,
Ink, Blink and Mustard, they rudely called him Percival,
They all sat laughing in the little red wagon
At the realio, trulio, cowardly dragon.

Belinda giggled till she shook the house,
And Blink said Week!, which is giggling for a mouse,
Ink and Mustard rudely asked his age,
When Custard cried for a nice safe cage.

Suddenly, suddenly they heard a nasty sound,
And Mustard growled, and they all looked around.
Meowch! cried Ink, and Ooh! cried Belinda,
For there was a pirate, climbing in the winda.

Pistol in his left hand, pistol in his right,
And he held in his teeth a cutlass bright,
His beard was black, one leg was wood;
It was clear that the pirate meant no good.

Belinda paled, and she cried, Help! Help!
But Mustard fled with a terrified yelp,
Ink trickled down to the bottom of the household,
And little mouse Blink strategically mouseholed.

But up jumped Custard, snorting like an engine,
Clashed his tail like irons in a dungeon,
With a clatter and a clank and a jangling squirm
He went at the pirate like a robin at a worm.

The pirate gaped at Belinda’s dragon,
And gulped some grog from his pocket flagon,
He fired two bullets but they didn’t hit,
And Custard gobbled him, every bit.

Belinda embraced him, Mustard licked him,
No one mourned for his pirate victim
Ink and Blink in glee did gyrate
Around the dragon that ate the pyrate.

Belinda still lives in her little white house,
With her little black kitten and her little gray mouse,
And her little yellow dog and her little red wagon,
And her realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda is as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chase lions down the stairs,
Mustard is as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard keeps crying for a nice safe cage.


Speak Your Mind