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The Day My Father Became a Bush

Review

The Day My Father Became a Bush

Toda’s father makes 20 types of pastries and three types of cake every day for his bakery. Then he goes off to war (at an undisclosed location) and Toda has to secretly travel across the border to find her absent mother.  While the author keeps details such as setting and language unclear, Toda’s courage and intelligence during wartime will appeal to readers from the beginning. Her story of resilience in a changing and challenging landscape is echoed by humorous and enigmatic drawings from the talented author.
 
After Toda’s father goes to war, she reads a manual on disguises that he left her and envisions her father hiding himself as a bush. She hopes that keeps him safe. Her grandmother comes to live in the apartment over the bakery, but the building is bombed and in an active warzone. Her grandmother tells her that she will have to travel over the border to her long absent mother and live with her during the rest of the war. The trip will be with strangers. She and her grandmother make a list of things she shouldn’t forget, including her father’s pastries, cuddles and “Gran’s wobbly way of singing.”  
 
At the group’s first stop in a small village, some children give them broken, ugly, toys, and the parents become angry when Toda’s group is not more grateful. In another scene when Toda goes to use the bathroom in a shelter, she encounters a group of elderly women who all fight for Toda to adopt one of them as a stand-in grandmother. Toda is homesick and wants only her real grandmother.
 
Toda’s courage and intelligence during wartime will appeal to readers from the beginning. 
 
She explores one night as her group prepares for the last leg of the journey and ends up at a mansion with a lonely eccentric couple that doesn’t want her to leave. They try to hold her prisoner, but she still feels sorry for them, and leaves them a thank you note for her dinner. As she escapes with her group, she realizes she wrote that thank you note on the same paper that held her mother’s address.
 
After ending in her mother’s village, she does not know where to go, and no one seems to know her mother. She is placed in an orphanage but she comes up with a plan to save herself. While it doesn’t work out exactly as she had planned, the happy ending will satisfy readers.
 
At times the story is confusing without the clarity of setting and time, but Toda’s point of view about life in wartime is memorable and evocative. Toda is a strong and sympathetic heroine.  This book may work best with middle grade youth and would work well with discussion. 

Reviewed by Amy Alessio on March 7, 2014

The Day My Father Became a Bush
by Joke van Leeuwen

  • Publication Date: March 1, 2014
  • Genres: Children's, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 104 pages
  • Publisher: Gecko Press
  • ISBN-10: 1877579483
  • ISBN-13: 9781877579486