based on a true story, alan rabinowitz’s a boy and a jaguar (2014) is a wonderful book about learning to overcome one’s challenges. faced with criticisms about his stuttering, the narrator shares how his love of animals helps him move beyond his insecurities. beautifully illustrated by catia chien, this 2015 schneider family book award winner will make a wonderful read aloud.
there are two aspects i’d like to discuss in relation to a boy and a jaguar: the narrator’s voice and how the words and illustrations work together.
something about the narrator’s voice struck me. as he takes readers from the his childhood to adulthood, his voice is formal and mature. he is certainly more self aware and reflective than many children’s book narrators. certainly young kids have the ability to feel bad about themselves, but the way in which the narrator expresses his feelings and thoughts is clearly indicative of an adult man and zoologist alan rabinowitz reflecting back on his life. though children who stutter (or other children who have been identified as having a disability) will surely be able to relate to both his struggles and resilience, at times, i wondered if the voice was too aware, too mature. though i enjoyed the sentiment of the mature reflection, i felt that perhaps the text’s meaning would have been stronger coming through the child’s voice, especially on the pages during which the narrator is a child. conversations about what types of narrator’s voices work best in children’s book can definitely be a topic of discussion.
the other aspect of the text i want to discuss is how the illustrations and words complement each other. what i love about catia chien’s illustrations is that her illustrations range from abstract to realistic. i absolutely love the blueness on the “i still feel broken” page. how she is able to capture the narrator’s words and thoughts through color is wonderful. i also love the way she breaks up big illustrations with smaller detailed drawings. i liken this technique to pinning a photograph to the page. the other aspect of the text’s illustrations worthy of discussion is how chien plays around with the sizes of the narrator and the animals he befriends. far from arbitrary, the way chien scales the narrator and the animals correlates perfectly with rabinowitz’s story.
overall, a solid read. my only criticism is the narrator’s voice but the illustrations and message within a boy and a jaguar definitely make up for it! let me know what you think of the book in the comments below!