Friday, May 09, 2014

Talk to the Animals: A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz

The boy is a stutterer. His school puts him in the class for disturbed children.

"He's not disturbed," my parents say.

"We're sorry," the teachers answer, "but whenever he tries to speak, he disrupts the class."

But I can do two things without stuttering. One is to sing--only I can't sing well--and the other is talk to animals.

At home the boy gathers his pets--a hamster and gerbil, a turtle, chameleon, and green snake--and talks to them, telling them everything.

My parents try everything to help me. Nothing works.

But my father knows the one thing that does work. He takes me to the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo. I go straight to the cage with the lone jaguar.

I whisper my promise to her.I promise that if I can ever find my voice, I will be their voice and keep them from harm

As the boy grows up, he finds help, and though he knows he will always be a stutterer, he learns to speak fluently. But somehow he still feel broken.

His love for animals takes him through graduate training and he begins his work as an zoologist. Remembering the jaguar alone in her cage at the zoo, in Belize he begins to focus on the study of wild jaguars.  He realizes that in the forests of Central America, they need governmental protection from fur traders if they are to survive.

I am given fifteen minutes.

I can't stutter. I have to convince one of the poorest countries in Central America, with no protected areas in the entire country, that it has to save jaguars.

The prime minister votes to set up the world's first and only jaguar preserve.

In simple but fluent language famed conservationist Alan Rabinowitz tells his own story, how his childhood promise gave voice to the preservation of endangered animals, in his A Boy and a Jaguar (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014).  The author tells of  a sudden face-to-face encounter with a large male jaguar, where the two sit down and speaking without words, take each other's measure. Rabinowitz says,

We are both whole.

We are both at home.

Artist Catia Chien's charcoal and muted acrylic paintings have the almost dreamlike quality of a child's memory, evoking the feelings of the child, cut off from others by his inability to speak to them, and his animal friends who feel but also cannot speak their feelings, in a quiet but poignant story of emotions that will resonate with animal lovers and stutterers alike.

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