Review: A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

boy and a jaguar

A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by CaTia Chien

This is a stellar autobiographical picture book written by and about a wildlife conservationist.  Alan was a boy who could not speak clearly.  He battled stuttering all of the time except when he talked with animals.  When he visited the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo, he could whisper fluently into the ears of the cats.  He also spent a lot of time with his pets at home, speaking to them and telling them that if he ever found his own voice, he would serve as their voice since they had none and would keep them from harm.  Alan became the first person to study jaguars.  In Belize he felt at home in the jungle.  He worked to protect the jaguars and eventually had to speak for them in front of the President of Belize, hoping to save their habitat from destruction.  But can he speak clearly in the short 15 minutes he’s been given?

This book is made all the more compelling by the fact that it is true.  It gives readers a glimpse into the world of a child struggling with a disability, one that mars every verbal interaction he has.  And thanks to his ability with animals, readers quickly see beyond the stutter to the boy himself and to the gifts that he has to offer.  Even better, once Alan becomes an adult, readers get to see a man who is taking advantage of his uniqueness to make a difference in the world and for the animals he cares for so much.

Chien’s art is rich and varied.  She moves from backgrounds of wine red to brilliant yellow to the deep greens of the Belize jungles.  She shows an isolated boy, alone that contrasts beautifully with the man working happily alone in the jungle – so similar and yet so very different.

An extraordinary autobiography, this book shows readers not to judge anyone by how they speak but rather by what they do.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Little White Duck by Na Liu

little white duck

Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu, illustrated by Andres Vera Martinez

This graphic novel takes a look at the changes in China during the 1970s through the eyes of a young girl.  Da Qin lives in Wahun with her family, including a younger sister.  The book opens with the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 and shows a way of life that was disappearing.  In eight chapters, Liu reveals this transitional and fleeting time in China through experiences in her own childhood.  Along with the main character, readers get to celebrate New Year, capture pests, learn the value of rice, and visit a rural Chinese village.  Throughout, it is a remarkable view into a closed society that is just starting to open itself to the outside.

Liu writes her stories with a wonderful frankness about the playfulness of childhood filled with dreams of riding on cranes, but also tied down to the earth by the everyday nature of the tales.  There is a focus on the small moments of life in China.  Some are amazing to those of us who didn’t live them, like everyone participating in catching the four pests by bringing in a certain number of rat tails. 

Martinez’s art is a study in sepia toned memories made brilliant by the colors of childhood.  Against a gray background, the bright dragon dances at New Year’s.  Orange and yellow flames cook green and brown food.  And even after the drab poverty of the rural village, there are dreams of flying on a crane high in the sky.

Informative and remarkable, this graphic novel takes a fresh and frank look at a childhood in China.  Appropriate for ages 8-10.

Reviewed from library copy.