A brilliant, eerily engrossing evocation of war as it brushes up against youth

Kirkus Reviews (US)

The Day My Father Became a Bush


A delightful and poignant story of wartime Europe told through the eyes of a young girl, trying to make her own sense of a world gone mad.
Tomorrow’s Schools Today, May 2013


  • Description

    The Day My Father Became a Bush is a delightful and poignant story of wartime Europe.

    Before he becomes a bush, Toda’s father is a pastry chef. He gets up at the crack of dawn to bake twenty different sorts of pastries and three kinds of cake. Until, one day, everything changes. Fighting  breaks out in the south and Toda’s father has to go there to defend his country.

    Luckily he has a manual called ‘What every soldier needs to know’. This tells him how to hide from the enemy by using branches and leaves to disguise himself as a bush.

    Toda remains in the city with her grandmother but even there it’s no longer safe. She is sent to stay with her mother who lives across the border. Toda’s journey is full of adventure and danger. But she doesn’t give up. She has to find her mother.

  • Book Details

    Country of Origin The Netherlands
    Reader Age 8-12 year, 11-14 year
    Book Size

  • Reviews

    1. Publishers Weekly (US), January 2014

      Van Leeuwen’s haunting tale is narrated by a girl in an unnamed country at war. 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.

    2. School Library Journal, January 2014

      The contrast between the adults and Toda’s innocence adds humour to the story line and points out the absurdity of war and its processes in general. The black-and-white drawings interspersed throughout further emphasize the droll humour … Suggest this one to readers who have shown interest in John Boyne’s ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’.

    3. Booklist, January 2014

      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.

    4. Bulletin of Ctr for Child Bks, January 2014

      Toda’s wide-eyed observations are laced with gentle humour that is always edged with a faint sense of dread, and the pen and ink drawings that augment the text have the same funny/creepy quality. Van Leeuwen…manages to effectively capture the late elementary sense of wary engagement in a dangerous and confusing world, maintaining a knife-edge balance between humour and terror … Readers whose parents are in harm’s way will find in her a sturdy companion.

    5. Horn Book Magazine, January 2014

      This popular Dutch author/illustrator has a gift for writing of serious matters while maintaining a deceptively light, quirky sense of humor… This fable is warm, intelligent, and funny, arriving at a conclusion that is emotionally satisfying, if not secure. Liberally endowed with van Leeuwen’s comic, ironic cartoon drawings.

    6. Magpies, November 2013

      A surprising book for young children…[it] has the honesty that I’ve noticed before in Dutch publications.

    7. Starred review, Kirkus Reviews (US), November 2013

      The language is smart, innocent and full of surprising-but age-fitting-turns of phrase…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.

    8. Magpies, October 2013

      This book is a very skilfully written account showing how confusing and upsetting life as a refugee appears to a young person.

    9. Saturday Express, September 2013

      A delight… I loved this book. It’s funny and thoughtprovoking, and the wonderful illustrations will make you laugh out loud.

    10. Ann’s Book of the Month, Centre for Literacy in Primary Education, June 2013

      Toda deals with all the circumstances and people she meets along the way with resourcefulness and characteristic good humour, emphasised by the author’s black and white drawings which intersperse the text. The time and countries where the events take place are not specified, facilitating a philosophical element to this warmly woven story.

    11. Create a Kids’ Book Bulletin, June 2013

      This is a poignant story, and will make children aware of how it must feel to be thrown on your own resources, with no allowances made for your age – in time of war. The book is richly illustrated with sketches on most openings.

    12. New Zealand Herald, June 2013

      Toda’s father is called up to fight for his country and, in his soldiers handbook, Toda learns about things her dad will need to know when her goes to war like camouflage (hence the title). Toda is evacuated and so begins a frightening and fascinating journey, meeting a cast of unique characters. Van Leeuwen’s words have a witty charm, tenderly translated by Bill Nagelkerke.

    13. Tomorrow’s Schools Today, May 2013

      Despite its serious topic, this book is entertaining and at times humorous. It is a delightful and poignant story of wartime Europe told through the eyes of a young girl, trying to make her own sense of a world gone mad. Children over nine will also find the line drawing illustrations appealing and offering a further insight into what the narrator is going through.

    14. Bookrapt, April 2013

      This thought-provoking story about a young girl caught in a war-torn country gives insight into the challenges she copes with…This is an excellent book for adults to read with children.

    15. My Best Friends Are Books, April 2013

      The Day My Father Became a Bush is a touching story about war told from the unique perspective of a girl who is caught in the middle… There is more emotion and character packed into this little book than some authors put into 300 pages. It can stand alongside John Boyne’s The Boy in Striped Pyjamas and Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword as a must-read war story.

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