Reading and responding: A Boy and a Jaguar

When I first read A Boy and A Jaguar written by Alan Rabinowitz and illustrated by Cátia Chien, I closed it, took a deep breath, opened it up and read it again. And then I began to think about sharing it with my students. Soon, I thought about it so much, I bought a copy for my classroom and finally, as part of a study about endangered animals, I am reading it aloud.

As we do in our room, we are taking our time with this title. There is much to share and discuss. We are now two thirds of the way through and our word list (recorded on a sticky note on the inside cover) is getting long: voice, stuttering, broken, fluently, promise, protected area, hunters, capture and release, Belize, endangered, wild . . . 

 Reading and responding:  A Boy and a Jaguar  There's a Book for That

So far, we have talked a lot. What is it like to stutter? What makes a difference for Alan? Why does being around animals have such impact? What is his promise all about? Why does he feel so broken?

Students were honestly appalled that Alan was excluded from his classroom community. Many of them talked a lot about this. Lots of questions. Lots of upset.

 Reading and responding:  A Boy and a Jaguar  There's a Book for That

The children also felt sad that Alan continued to feel “broken” despite learning to speak without stuttering.

 Reading and responding:  A Boy and a Jaguar  There's a Book for That

On this page, one child shared: “I think he has been told this so many times about himself, he doesn’t know how to feel differently.”

When the talk is powerful, the writing is powerful. Full of both passion and compassion.

Some student responses from this part in the story:

“I think he feels sad and lonely. His parents help him buy help from doctors. I wouldn’t want to be judged. I think the boy feels comfortable around the jaguars and hopeful and happy. He feels right talking to animals.”

“Alan was a little boy. He was stuttering. My class, we talked with each other about how he stuttered. It is sad having no friends. He is probably very lonely. Maybe he just sits on a chair and reads a book and minds his business. I think he goes to the zoo to see the jaguar and maybe this makes him stop stuttering.”

“If I was the boy, I think I know the cure because if he doesn’t talk when he talks to animals, so when he’s talking to people, he should imagine an animal. I think he should try practicing by talking to his parents. Of if he is shy, he could face his fears. I think he can always feel sad at school because he keeps stuttering and he has no friends.

“This book is about how Alan stuttered and his teacher would put him in time out or away because she thought he was broken. So he thought he was broken. But the good thing is that he could talk to animals without stuttering and he could sing. I wonder if he still stutters now? I think he can talk to animals because they don’t make fun of him and he really liked talking to jaguars. His Dad took him to the big cat’s cage probably so he can be happy because he likes talking to jaguars.”

“Alan’s life was hard when he was young. He stuttered. There was no cure and he was told he would be a stutterer for life. He figured out that he didn’t stutter when he talked to animals. Maybe if he told the teachers that he didn’t stutter when he talked to animals, he would get through a special course with animals involved.”

“We’re reading a new book and I really like it so far. It’s called A Boy and a Jaguar. It’s about a boy who is a stutterer and he has a hard time talking to people but he can speak smoothly when he’s singing (but he says it’s not very good) and he can speak fluently when he speaks to his pets. Yes, that’s right, pets with a “s”. He’s got more than one pet. He’s got a turtle, a snake and . . . I forget the rest. It must have been hard for him thinking that he doesn’t fit in and that the teachers say he’s broken. When they say that to him, he questions himself “Am I broken?” But deep down Alan has to remember that he is not broken. He’s different in his own way. Everybody is different and the same and that’s why you don’t judge someone because if you put yourself in a stranger’s footsteps, you would actually know what their life is like. Alan makes a promise to his many pets that when he finds his voice, he would help his animals and animals in general. It’s toughing to read about a boy and that animals change his life. That’s why we shouldn’t treat animals horribly.”

We continued to read about how Alan went to Belize and studied jaguars. He was given 15 minutes to present to the government of Belize that they should make a protected area for jaguars. We stopped here and wrote again.

 Reading and responding:  A Boy and a Jaguar  There's a Book for That

Some more writing:

“I wonder if he is worrying because he won’t be able to convince them? Is he going to stutter when he is talking? I wonder if he is saying to himself, ” I have to do this.””

“I wonder if he still studies animals. I feel bad for the animals because they’re being hunted still today. I hope that Alan did not stutter to the government. I’m worried in 15 minutes he will stutter. I think he gots butterflies in his stomach and I think he’s nervous.”

“Alan goes to the Smoky Mountains to study black bears. Then he does his promise because he found his voice to go study and learn more about jaguars because he was the first person to study jaguars in Belize. That country is really poor so it will take lots of convincing power to build a jaguar sanctuary. I think he will think what he is going to say through and not stutter but maybe a minor stutter. I think he is nervicited (new word).”

“It’s sad to hear in this book that jaguars are in danger. I hope they don’t get extinct. Why do people do this? They kill animals for a shiny trophy? That’s not fair. Animals are just like humans. They care for their babies like humans do. Animals drink water, they eat like humans do. Humans are killing more animals than animals attack humans. Did you know that humans kill hundreds and hundreds of sharks year after year for their skin, their fins and even for medicine.”

“If I was him, I would write a script before I go to speak to the government because then I can speak properly and it has a better chance of no stuttering. I wonder if Alan will stutter? I wonder how Alan feels because I think he’s very nervous and worried.”

“When Alan knew that the hunters were on the loose, he wanted to find somewhere for them to be safe so he went to the Prime Minister. He only had 15 minutes. He seemed pretty nervous. He kept his promise that he made to animals. Hunters were trying to kill the jaguars so they are endangered. I hope that the Prime Minister says yes. It says he feels broken. At first I didn’t understand but then I thought and I got it. I think he feels pretty sad that animals like jaguars are dying.

 Reading and responding:  A Boy and a Jaguar  There's a Book for That

I look forward to the continued conversations and thinking from my students as we finish this book this week.

Thanks to Alyson from Kid Lit Frenzy for the inspiration to read and share more nonfiction picture books in 2015. Follow the link to Alyson’s blog to read about more nonfiction books you need to read!


Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway


The Schneider Family Book Award honours an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences. As so many of us are trying to include more diverse titles in our classroom libraries and read aloud selections, these award winners are an important resource for teachers and parents.

When Alyson Beecher from KidLit Frenzy asked if I would be willing to talk about a favourite Schneider Family Book award winner, many titles came instantly to mind. I chose to share Sarah Lean‘s touching middle grade novel A Dog Called Homeless (a 2013 winner) because this is a title that both my daughter Beatrice (now eleven) and I adored. I am also planning to read this book with my Junior Student Book Club this fall.

 A dog Called Homeless Schneider Family Book Award Blog Tour There's a Book for That

This is a precious and poignant read – one that you can sit down and finish in one emotional sitting and then carry it with you for ages. Lean takes on a tragic topic – losing a parent and explores the complexity of carrying on. We meet Cally Fisher and experience her grief and the healing process she goes through which involves new friends, visions of her mother and a very special dog called Homeless.

Cally needs to talk about her feelings and about missing her Mom but lives in a home with a brother who buries himself in his room and a father who covers himself in work and detective dramas on television and works hard to desperately avoid any memories of his wife. After Cally participates in a “sponsored silence” at school, she stops talking altogether. Without words, she begins to learn there are many ways to listen and to be heard. Sam, a new neighbour and friend who is blind and mostly deaf teaches her some of the most important lessons about communication. He gives Cally space, trust, faith and the companionship that she really needs.

“Sam is the best friend anyone could have. He’s like an angel from another world, and as he held my arm while we walked away, he was reading my heart, guiding me.”

This book is about many things, but at its core is a relationship between daughter and mother. So I asked my daughter to help me write this post. We both reread the novel and wrote up some questions for each other to answer. I asked Bea to write three questions and she gave me ten. An incredible, thoughtful ten! Proud Mama that I am, I’ve included all of them below. We each responded to three questions posed by the other.

Bea’s questions and my answers:

1. Do you think Jed is one of the most important characters in the story?

Jed is the link to both Homeless and Cally’s Mom. But he is also one of the characters that helps us measure the hearts and compassion of the other characters in terms of how they interact with him and the respect that they do or don’t show him.

2. Was there a character in the story that you felt close to? (other than Cally)

Surprise, surprise that I identified with Sam’s Mom, Mrs. Cooper. I loved how she adored her son and was very protective but yet, she had lots of room in her heart to care about others too (like Cally). She was a fun Mom who interacted with children in a natural and encouraging way. 

3. Other than her mother, what do you think Cally needed most in the story. Do you think she got it?   

I think what Cally needs most is a way to go on and be happy without her Mom being physically there with her. Do I think she got that? I think by the end of the story, there is a promise of how that can be possible

My questions and Bea’s answers:

1. Cally’s Dad says to her midway through the book: “You know sooner or later you’re going to have to speak. How else are you going to get what you want.” What do you think about this? 

That wasn’t fair to Cally – her mom just died and her dad should realize that is is so hard on her and maybe he should have asked her to write stuff down rather than pressure her into it. It seems like her Dad doesn’t understand her or try to understand her.

2. All of the characters handle grief in such different ways. How do you think you would handle grief? 

If you died, I would always be crying. I would probably shut off from the world for a while. It makes me want to cry just thinking about it.

3. What made Sam such a good friend to Cally? 

I think Sam knew that Cally was going through something rough and he understood the rules of friendship and knew how to not make her sad but instead make her SHINE. He let her feel like he understood her. And he was also kind of an inspiration to Cally. He had all these disabilities but he got through it and was a better person because of it!

Beatrice’s ten questions:

  • What did you think about how Cally’s friend Mia treated Cally?
  • Do you think Cally’s dad payed more attention to Cally when her mom was alive?
  • Do you think it was proving something to Mia and her teacher that made Cally stop talking for longer than needed?
  • Would you run away from Sam like Cally did? And do you think Sam felt bad when that happened?
  • Do you think Jed is one of the most important characters in the story?
  • What do you think was the role of Homeless in the story?
  • Was there a character in the story that you felt close to? (other than Cally)
  • Do you think that Cally’s dad should have let her keep Homeless in the beginning?What effect do you think that would have on the story?
  • Do you think that Cally’s mother was really there as a ghost at the beginning of the story or do you think Cally just wanted her to be so badly?
  • Other than her mother what do you think Cally needed most in the story? Do you think she got it?

I found a tweet in author Sarah Lean’s twitter feed tweeted the day her Schneider award arrived in the mail. Thank you Sarah, for sharing A Dog Called Homeless with your readers!

Check out all of the blogs participating in the Schneider Family Book Award 10th Anniversary Blog Tour & Giveaway:

To celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Schneider Family Book Award, readers have an opportunity to win a set of all three 2014 Schneider Family Book Award winning titles. Participants must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address. There will be one winner but you can enter from any of the blogs as part of this celebration.

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Click on the link below to enter the giveaway.

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