The Day My Father Became a Bush

Joke Van Leeuwen, Author, Joke Van Leeuwen, Illustrator
Joke van Leeuwen, trans. from the Dutch by Bill Nagelkerke. Gecko Press USA (Lerner, dist.), $16.95 (104p) ISBN 978-1-877579-48-6
Reviewed on: 02/03/2014
Release date: 02/01/2014
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Van Leeuwen’s (Eep!) haunting tale is narrated by a girl in an unnamed country at war. Her mother left the family long ago; now her father has been conscripted. The girl struggles to understand her father’s departure, puzzling over his soldier’s manual with a child’s wisdom: “And what if they all disguised themselves as bushes?” she wonders. “How would anybody know who belonged to which side?” Eventually, she is sent with other refugee children across the border, enduring a series of trials not always easily distinguishable from the bad dreams she sometimes has. Local groups give the children used toys and insist that they shout “thank you!” Grandmothers beg them to sit on their laps, competing for their attention. A demented general waylays the girl. “I’ve devised a comprehensive test to tell how scared someone is because if you’re not fearless you’re no use to a general,” he announces. A neat, surprisingly rational final chapter has the effect of snapping the story back to reality. Sensitive writing compensates for the story’s darker moments, while gentle line drawings offer bits of comic relief. Ages 9–up. (Apr.)
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