We Became Jaguars by Dave Eggers

Cover image

We Became Jaguars by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Woodrow White (9781452183930)

When a boy’s grandmother comes to visit, his parents leave him alone with her even though he doesn’t really remember her. His grandmother immediately drops to the floor and invites him to become a jaguar with her. He joins her, stretching himself thinner and becoming faster. Soon they are out in the forest, moving through it in the way that only jaguars can. The two drink from moonlit water, and his grandmother kills a rabbit and eats it. They venture to high lookouts, take occasional rests, and run fast and often. Their voices rumble like thunder together. As they head into the Himalayas, the boy remembers he has to return to school and wonders how long they have been gone. The ending refreshingly leaves questions of what was imagined and what was real.

Eggers writes in prose that is a mix of simple lines and marvelously captivating moments. Nature plays a large role in the book, inviting readers to think about venturing out into their own forests and having their own outdoor adventures. The time spent together sipping water from a lake, running fast and hard, and bouncing over water like marbles creates a vibrant relationship between the two characters as they get to know one another. It becomes less and less important what is real as their experiences together are what truly matter.

White’s illustrations are full of mystery and moonlight. He uses such deep colors in the book, allowing the jaguars to glow on the page, full of their own light. The gatefold page opens fully to allow the two people to transform in front of the reader into jaguars. The pages are deliciously colored, showing the wonders of nature and a variety of gorgeous landscapes.

Imaginative and invigorating, this playful picture book takes us to the wild side. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Chronicle Books.

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.