A Boy and a Jaguar

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
A Boy and a Jaguar Book Poster Image
Inspiring true story of stutterer and his work with animals.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Information about stuttering, endangered animals, wildlife conservation, jaguar preserves.

Positive Messages

You can overcome difficulties or disabilities and be successful and effective in the world. Challenges can open up new avenues of interest and increase empathy. Even if others don't understand you, you can follow your own heart and instincts. People and animals have a strong connection. People have a responsibility to protect animals.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Rabinowitz is an excellent role model, since he feels he emerged from his childhood trials stronger. He not only overcame his stuttering, he became a voice for others who have none.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Boy and a Jaguar is an autobiographical picture book by Alan Rabinowitz, a zoologist dedicated to protecting wild cat species, who also advocates for stutterers and relates these two interests in his life story. As a child he was a severe stutterer, but he grew up to be an articulate and effective advocate for wildlife, particularly jaguars. Because the story spans his life, including references to college and work, it's probably most meaningful for older picture book readers, who can consider a life's trajectory. The book, illustrated by Catia Chien, won a prestigious award from the American Library Association -- a 2015 Schneider Family Book Award for artistic expression of the disability experience -- but its themes aren't restricted to stutterers. Many children will relate to the feelings of isolation and being misunderstood and be inspired by Rabinowitz's work advocating for endangered animals. 

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What's the story?

As a child, Alan Rabinowitz suffered from severe stuttering and was put in "a class for disturbed children," making him "feel broken." But he was comfortable speaking with animals and felt they were similarly misunderstood: "Animals can't get the words out, just as I can't. So people ignore or misunderstand or hurt them." He promised his pets and a jaguar at the zoo that he'd grow up to "be their voice and keep them from harm." In college, he received treatment to help him speak fluently, formalized his study of animals, and eventually developed a specialization in wild cats and jaguars. True to his early promise to the animals, he persuaded officials in Belize to set up a jaguar preserve. The book ends with him in the wild sitting unharmed with a jaguar he'd protected.

Is it any good?

Author Alan Rabinowitz has written nonfiction for adults, and the writing in A BOY AND A JAGUAR is relatively straightforward, though there are artful passages. The story itself is moving and inspiring, providing a hopeful model for kids who struggle with a disability or who feel isolated and misunderstood.

The art by Catia Chien is evocative and illuminates the emotional heart of the book, the boy's feelings about being labeled and marginalized, as well as his connection with animals. The book makes a strong case for a human connection with and responsibility to wildlife.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about stuttering. How does it feel to stutter or not be able to communicate easily?

  • Why did the author identify with animals when he was young? How were his experiences like theirs?

  • Why do animals need their own habitats? How can we help preserve them?

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