A Boy And A Jaguar – Perfect Picture Book Friday

jagTitle: A Boy And A Jaguar

Written by: Alan Rabinowitz

Illustrated by: Catia Chien

Published by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

Themes/Topics: jaguars, conservation, stuttering, big cats

Suitable for ages: 3-7

Awards: Schneider Family Book Award for Children (2015)



I’m standing in the great cat house at the Bronx Zoo.                                                        Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room, I wonder.

I lean toward my favorite animal and whisper to her.

“What are you doing?” my father asks.


A little boy named Alan, who stutters uncontrollably when speaking to humans, isolates himself from children and adults to cope. However, when with animals he finds his speech fluid and natural. he has a variety of pets at home but his favorite place, not surprisingly, becomes his local zoo (The Bronx Zoo of New York), where he has a friend, a jaguar. He cannot understand why such a beautiful communicative animal should be left alone in a bare cage.

From a place of deep empathy recognizing that these zoo animals are so often misunderstood as he is,  Alan determines to champion the big cats especially. The story follows. After a breakthrough in college with his speech, he heads to Belize where he is the first person to ever study jaguars. He becomes to these cats what Jane Goodall is to the apes! And in this work and advocacy he finds peace.

Why I like This Book:

“A beautiful book that will inspire stutterers to succeed and make a positive difference in the world.” Temple Grandin, author of Animals in Translation

This story explores truths about the loneliness of young stutters, the misunderstanding especially by adults and the passion of one individual for conservation. It follows the true story of a man that Time Magazine calls, ‘the Indiana Jones of Wildlife conservation.’ Many children will identify with the isolation young Alan feels from being different and with the solace he finds amongst animals. His commitment to becoming a spokesperson for animals who cannot speak for themselves is an inspiration to us all to find our passion and go after it.

Alan Rabinowitz has dedicated his life to animal conservation and he is CEO of PANTHERA a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the world’s 36 wildcat species. He is also an advocate for stutterers and spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America.

This is a book to add to your conservation lessons and as a great discussion book for supporting friends with a disability.


Chien’s illustrations in acrylic and charcoal are powerful and awash with emotion. Vast panoramic spreads of mountains, aquariums, the jungle give a great sense of the boy’s smallness and yet oneness with these natural conditions.


Each week a group of bloggers reviews picture books we feel would make great educational reads. To help teachers, caregivers and parents, we have included resources and activities with each of our reviews. A complete list of the thousands of books we have reviewed can be found sorted alphabetically and by topics, here on Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

Illustrator Interview – Mike Curato

Curato_authorpicThe first book in Mike’s series, Little Elliot, Big City, debuted on August 26th, 2014 and was the winner of the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats New Illustrator Honor. I had briefly met Mike a year ago in one of those crazy NYC SCBWI conference moments where you try and memorize 2000 new names and faces to match the business cards in your pockets. Lucky for me I bumped into him again at Books of Wonder last weekend and we had great fun becoming more acquainted and sharing our latest projects.

[JM] Illustrator or author/illustrator?  If the latter, do you begin with words or pictures?

[MC] I am an author/illustrator. I usually start with pictures, then jump back and forth between that and the writing. I often times will have images haunting my mind, and won’t really know what it’s about. I get it out on paper, then start writing about what could be going on in the picture. I discover the story slowly through this process. It can be a frustratingly lengthy process at times, but well worth the wait.

[JM] Where are you from/have you lived and how has that influenced your work?

[MC] I grew up in the New York City suburbs in the Hudson River Valley. The magic and mystery of New York City has been quite an influence on my work, as you can see in Little Elliot, Big City. I was also charmed by the small old towns dotting the Hudson, with their original store fronts and seemingly ancient stone walls dividing up farmland. During college, I studied for a semester in Florence, Italy, which had a tremendous influence on me as an artist. My eyes soaked in the detail and precision of the Renaissance masters. Meanwhile, my work actually became looser. The freedom of living abroad allowed me to experiment uninhibited. I also spent ten years in Seattle as a grown up. I’m not sure how this has influenced my work yet. Perhaps it’s too soon to tell, since I just moved to Brooklyn a year ago.

[JM] Tell us a little of your beginnings and journey as an artist.

[MC] I’ve been drawing since I can remember. I would draw on almost anything. I always knew I wanted to be an artist. After a disastrous season of pee-wee basketball, my mother enrolled me into private art classes. I took lessons all the way up to college. I studied at Syracuse University, majoring in illustration. After school, I ended up interning with a graphic design firm, and started making a living as a designer soon after. Those years after college were more about survival than fulfilling my dreams. Eventually, I made time for creating work for myself, which blossomed into my current work.

[JM] Do you have a preferred medium to work in?

[MC] For the past five years, I’ve worked almost exclusively in pencil and digital color. I definitely experiment with other mediums, primarily ink. Drawing is my first love.

[JM] What has surprised you most about publishing LITTLE ELLIOT, BIG CITY?

[MC] It’s really been a thrill to see so many people loving Elliot. I knew I loved him, but the response has been truly overwhelming and heart-warming. It’s also been a treat getting to know other authors and illustrators during this whole process. People have been very welcoming and have shared great advice.


[JM] Can you share a piece or two with us, maybe of a WIP, and the process of creating them? 

[MC] Here is a brief animation showing my illustration process from thumbnail to finish. For a more detailed explanation about how I work, you can visit this post on my blog!


Little Elliot Subway

Little Elliot Subway



[JM] This GIF is awesome, what a great way to show us your process. Do you have a favorite picture book from when you were young?

[MC] My mom tells me that the books I read most when I was very young were all Golden Books: The Little Red Caboose, the Poky Little Puppy, and Hiram’s Red Shirt. I also had (and still have) a huge Golden Book compilation called Tibor Gergely’s Big Book of Bedtime Stories.

[JM] Do you have themes or characters you return to in your art?

[MC] Well, I’ve been drawing Elliot now for over ten years. We know each other well. I also have a character named Ricky Raccoon, who I have been drawing even longer than Elliot. He is making his picture book debut in a spread for What’s Your Favorite Color? by Eric Carle & Friends (I’m one of the friends!). I have a few other characters that I play around with in my sketchbook. We’ll see if/when they have their moment on the printed page. As for themes, I think it’s plain that I have a sweet tooth and a affection for city living. Friendship and family come up quite often in my writing (the follow-up to Big City is Little Elliot, Big Family, Fall 2015!). Other themes that I can think of: nostalgia, self-worth, the unnoticed, the forgotten, the outsider.

Little Elliot Plush

Little Elliot Plush

Little Elliot Big Family coming out this summer.

Little Elliot Big Family coming out Fall of 2015!

[JM] What does your workspace look like? 


[JM] What artwork do you have hanging in your house? 

[MC] Our tiny Brooklyn apartment does not have that much wall space, but I do have art hanging! Aside from my own, I also have original work by my friends Sarah Jane Lapp and Michael Lewis. There’s also a print of Sophie Blackall’s famous subway poster in our living room. In my studio there are prints by Sergio Ruzzier, Bob Staake, Elizabeth Rose Stanton, Diana Sudyka, Suzanne Kaufman, Victor Melendez/Jeff Wilkson, Chris Rollins, and a bunch of postcards from other illustrators.

Five Fun Ones to Finish?                                                                                                [JM] What’s your favorite park in the world?

[MC] The Boboli Gardens in Florence are pretty magical. 

[JM] Oh, yes, love them. You are the first to pick an Italian park.                             Cats or dogs? 

[MC] Both! I spend a lot of time with Georgie and Feta, who live with my friend and fellow author/illustrator, Ruth Chan. They are both featured in Ruth’s debut picture book Where’s the Party? (2016).

Georgie and Feta

Georgie and Feta

[JM] Fact that most people don’t know about you?

[MC] I have relatives living in 9 countries! My father is from the Philippines and my mother’s parents were from Ireland. We still have many relatives in those two places, but also England, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Taiwan, Canada, and of course the US. What’s really cool is that my book is sold (or will be sold soon) in all of those countries!

[JM] You beat me, my list just went from 4 to 3! And how awesome that you are going to be published in all these nations! One word to describe yourself?

[MC] hungry

[JM] Go to snack/drink to sustain your creative juices?

[MC] Ha! I swear I didn’t read this question before I answered the last one! Chocolate.

[JM] Yeah, right!! :)

Mike can be found on his website, Facebook and on twitter.

Mike it was terrific to chat to you here on the blog and in person last weekend. I wish you all success, especially with the project you were sharing!!


Last Stop on Market Street – Diversity Reading Challenge 2015

 Today’s Diversity Read/Review falls into categories #1 and #2. The author Matt de la Peña  is half Mexican/half white and the illustrator Christian Robinson is African-American.10549007_812063368836968_6839586119509335608_o

marketTitle: Last Stop Market Street

Written by: Matt de la Peña

Illustrated by: Christian Robinson

Published by: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015

Themes/Topics: grandmothers, gratitude, diversity, communities, imagination, urban story

Suitable for ages: 3-6


CJ pushed through the church doors, skipped down the steps.

The outside air smelled like freedom,                                                                                      but it also smelled like rain,                                                                                                   which freckled CJ’s shirt and dripped down his nose.


After church every Sunday, instead of messing around at home like his friends, CJ takes a bus trip across town to  a special place with his nana. This grandmother is so classy in the calm upbeat way she counters CJ’s common childhood gripes about not having things others have or having to go to a dirty part of town. Nana shows CJ the beauty of what they have, how a blind man can ‘watch the world with their ears’ or catching a glimpse of a rainbow above the soup kitchen in the dirty part of town. The relationship, journey and destination are rich with diversity and and spirit.

Why I like This Book:

  • One of my favorite YA (he has written other picture books too) authors paired perfectly with one of my favorite illustrators! (Christian Robinson also did GASTON by Kelly DiPucchio, JOSEPHINE: THE DAZZLING LIFE OF JOSEPHINE BAKER by Patricia Hruby Powell, and THE SMALLEST GIRL IN THE SMALLEST GRADE and the same simplicity and ADORABLE facial expressions are found in all these picture books).
  • Lengthy text for a younger picture book, which feels totally appropriate to the story.
  • Many wonderful child-friendly moments and speech (raindrops on your nose, older kids with nicer stuff than you, “Nana, how come we don’t got a car?”)
  • It is set in a vibrant diverse urban neighborhood that could be any city but makes me think of San Francisco.
  • Beautifully paced with a slow rhythm and lyrically written.
  • An awesome grandmother – calm, thoughtful, full of love and optimism.
  • Vivid, bright illustrations that I think will be particularly appealing to very young children even before they can fully engage with the story.
  • An outing to a soup kitchen. How awesome is that for a kid!


Pair with NANA IN THE CITY for discussions about diversity and neighborhoods.

Take your preschoolers on public transport and do a trip to a soup kitchen.

NPR audio-interview with Matt de la Pena.