“A Boy and a Jaguar” written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Catia Chien is an endearing story that follows the life of a young boy who struggles with stuttering and finds refuge with his pet animals. His teachers think that he is disruptive in class and it seems like nobody understands him, except for his animals.The story follows the young boy all the way into adulthood. It begins as he is a young boy who has trouble speaking to humans, BUT he has no problem speaking to his pets (a hamster, a gerbil, a turtle, a chameleon, and a snake)! He goes into his closet and talks to them every day. He says “I make a promise to my pets. I promise that if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm.”
He is able to relate to the animals as he says, “I know my pets listen and understand. Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t get the words out. So people ignore or misunderstand or hurt them, the same way people ignore or misunderstand or hurt me.”
As time goes on, the young boy gets through school by staying quiet and avoiding certain situations. Eventually he goes on to college where things begin to change. His teachers help him learn how to become a “fluent stutterer” and for the first time in his entire life, the boy is able to speak without stuttering.
Although the boy can now speak, he still longs for something more. He sets out to work with animals, as he has always cared dearly for them. He studies Black Bears in the Great Smoky Mountains and Jaguars in Belize. He feels at home with the animals and in the wild.
But the boy soon realizes that the jaguars are in danger. Poachers are out to kill them and the animals are not safe. So he sets out to find a way to protect the jaguars. He goes to the office of the Prime Minister to convince him that Belize needs to protect the jaguars. He uses his voice to keep the animals safe, as the Prime Minister agrees to set up a jaguar preserve.
This is a wonderful story about a young boy who finds a deep connection with animals. His stuttering held him back from communicating with humans, but lead him to a world of discovery and accomplishment. He found friends in his pet animals as a young boy, and continued on to feel at home with them as he grew older. He kept his promise to protect the animals with his voice once he found it, by helping to start the first jaguar preserve.
-Mia MacLean Vernic