The Day My Father Became a Bush
By Joke van Leeuwen
Illustrated by Joke van Leeuwen
Translated by Bill Nagelkerke
Published by Lerner Publishing Group

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“A brilliant, eerily engrossing evocation of war as it brushes up against youth—a harsh slice of the world during a mean piece of history.” —Kirkus Reviews  

A clear-eyed, funny, and off-beat novel about a girl making sense of a baffling world. ; Toda’ s father has gone away to fight in the war. Luckily, he’ s read about camouflage and will be able to hide from the enemy by disguising himself as a bush. Toda is sent to stay with her mother where it’ll be safer. Her journey across the border is full of danger and adventure, but she doesn’t’ t give up. She has to find her mother.

Reviews & Accolades
Named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014

“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.”  —Publishers Weekly

Welcome to the world of ethnic warfare, from the dinner table to the battle lines, full of haunted landscapes and social relationships—and you are a young girl.

The story involves a girl, the narrator, who is forced to flee her village as civil war ravages her unnamed country, one of those endlessly grinding tank wars, fueled by animosities stretching back 600 years but as fresh as today’s daisies in the combatants’ noses. Her father, a pastry chef, has joined his neighbors: “He had to go and help defend one side against the other even though he had friends who were on the other side.” The language is smart, innocent and full of surprising—but age-fitting—turns of phrase. The girl is sent to live with her estranged mother, across the border. On her way there, much on foot, often through dark forest, she meets a cast of characters who mirror all the bickering that’s tearing the country apart. The text makes all her emotions palpable (“My stomach was full of homesickness. There was no room for anything else”), fear above all, but it never overwhelms her, instead releasing sudden survival instincts that get her through.

A brilliant, eerily engrossing evocation of war as it brushes up against youth—a harsh slice of the world during a mean piece of history.—Kirkus Reviews  

“Toda lives with her father above the bakery where he makes 20 different scrumptious pastries every morning. Her mother left a long time ago; she couldn’t cope. Toda’s father enlists to fight in the war in “the south” and leaves Toda with her Gran. When the bombing gets too close, her Gran sends her across the border to live with her mother. And so begins a strange, harrowing journey on buses through forests to welfare homes and agencies, attached to bitter strangers, themselves put upon by the strains of wartime, all in search of a mother she doesn’t know. Toda experiences her exodus with the struggles, hopes, and misunderstandings of a child, and van Leeuwen compounds this sense of confusion by omitting details about the setting. Warm, odd pen-and-ink sketches dot the narrative, adding to the childlike sensibility. By turns charming and disquieting, this challenging slip of a novel offers deep and genuine thoughts about the intersections of war and family. ” —Booklist

Groups Represented

Family Relationships
Fleeing Persecution

Unnamed Country

Engagement Projects
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