From School Library Journal
K-Gr 3–This moving picture book recounts, through the author's eyes as a child, the year of her father's military tour of duty in Viet Nam. The youngest of four kids growing up in a safe, loving family, Suzy is first seen listening to her dad read Ogden Nash's poem about Custard, the dragon who stays brave despite his inner fears. Thus the stage is set for her father's imminent deployment. In this pre-Internet world, his postcards provide tenuous but tangible connections as the first grader tries to comprehend what a jungle is, what her father is doing there, and the passage of time (“Has it been a year yet?”). But Suzy's concerns increase when Dad confuses her birthday with a sister's, and then the postcards cease. When one abruptly surfaces, Dad signs it, “Pray for me.” (She does, “very hard.”) Television news and a near-drowning incident during a swimming lesson feed the child's anxieties. Suddenly, Dad is home, “tired and thin… his skin… the color of pancake syrup.” Suzy struggles to articulate her harbored fears, which he gently allays, and the two resume reading about Custard, whose stoicism surely resonates more deeply for them. Vibrantly colored cartoon illustrations, outlined in thick black ink, underscore a child's point of view. The characters' enormous eyes and boldly colored pupils provide an arresting motif. Suzy's increasingly haunted imaginings, depicted on spreads of painterly gray tones with bursts of color, stand in stark visual contrast to the narrative text and illustrations framed by generous white space. The author's spot-on memories paired with child-friendly art create a universal exploration of war and its effect on young children, ideally shared with and facilitated by a sensitive adult.–Kathleen Finn, St. Francis Xavier School, Winooski, VTα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
*Starred Review* Collins mines her own experience to tell a tender personal story of war seen through a child’s eyes. First-grader Suzy’s father is deployed to Vietnam. At first, though she misses him, she dreams of the exotic jungle. But as the year goes on, marked by Christmas trees and candy hearts, things get harder. His postcards arrive less and less frequently, while news of the war, and its real dangers, comes more and more often. In the end, Suzy’s father returns, and while some things are different, some things are the same. Collins’ unflinching first-person account details the fears and disappointments of the situation as a child would experience them. And where more realistic illustrations would feel overwrought and sentimental, Proimos’ flat, cartoony drawings, with their heavy lines and blocky shapes, are sturdy and sweet, reflecting a child’s clear-eyed innocence. While small personal details and specific references to Vietnam fix the story in one child’s individual experience, it is these very particularities that establish the kind of indelible and heartfelt resonance that is universally understood. Indeed, children missing parents in all kinds of circumstances will find comfort here. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Heard of a little series called The Hunger Games? Yes, well, this is by the very same author. Grades K-3. --Thom Barthelmess