The Accidental Jungle, Story & illustrations by J.G. Smith c2018, 48 pp. ISBN 978-0-9917481-4-3
Review by Marilyn Aldworth, District Librarian, North Vancouver School Board
This beautifully illustrated story is simply told but with a few important messages conveyed through the actions of Pascal, a six-year-old boy. Colourful pen & ink drawings are alternated with wallpaper pages on a background of split-leaf philodendron that are appropriate to the theme of nature.
Pascal and his young, single mother, attracted to an apartment because of the low-rent, move into a dilapidated flat that has been vacant for years. Yet, with true grit and determination they clean it up so it becomes cheerful and bright. Even though Pascal considers it a palace compared to their previous lodging, a dingy basement suite, he feels the lack of a nice green, outdoor space.
Lo and behold, one day Pascal steps onto the rusty old fire escape and discovers a walled courtyard that is filled with amazing and exotic plants (due to the fact that the cranky landlord dumped all the previous tenant's beloved plants off the fire escape into the empty courtyard). Somehow with neglect but a lot of good growing conditions the plants thrived and grew, some of them stretched 12 feet high to form a dense canopy. This is what Pascal called "An Accidental Jungle", and it became his own private jungle
This urban jungle becomes Pascal's escape from his lonely life and from his schoolyard bullies who torment him on a daily basis. He built himself a tree house, and when he was hungry he could simply pick a banana or a guava from the trees. Still he was constantly taunted and teased at school by the bullies who made fun of his second-hand clothes and his small size. Every day he wondered what nasty new tricks his tormentors had waiting for him.
A parallel story was happening across the city in an old zoo, but the subject was an old lion. The lion, like Pascal was solitary and also taunted and treated badly by schoolboys who threw rocks and litter into his lion pit. One late night the lion managed to escape due to a lightning bolt that brought down a tree that allowed the lion to walk out to freedom.
The lion sniffs his way through the city to the "accidental jungle" and after being treated kindly and nicely fed by Pascal, they become friends. Pascal names the lion, Louie, and it turns out that when the bullies chase Pascal home, it is Louie who makes sure that they will never bother Pascal again.
Of course, this cozy little duo of lion and boy can't continue because the zoo director is searching for Louie. When Louie is discovered, the kindly zoo director is amazed at their happy coexistence. Mr. Smith, the director, is so impressed with Pascal's courage and his kindness to Louie that he asks Pascal to come and work with him at the zoo, and to help make the zoo a better place, especially for Louie.
This is a fine read-aloud for primary-aged children, particularly those who may be facing some adversity in their lives. This story reminds me of the well-known classic children's story, The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
The 42-page, soft-cover book targets children ages six to 11, but parents and grandparents will enjoy reading it to younger children as well.
To order copies of the book please visit the Facebook page, The Accidental Jungle. Retail price is $18.