Rating: 5 stars
Once upon a time, a little boy about four years old walked with his father to the Bronx Zoo. This boy stood in front of the cage of a giant, wild jaguar. The jaguar paced before the boy, seeming frustrated at his confined situation.
The boy understood how the jaguar felt. He was a stutterer; thoughts were confined to his head, unable to get out. Usually when he tried to "use his words" he grew red in the face and his body convulsed with the his inability to transform his thoughts into coherent sounds and launch them successfully into the conversation.
But today, in front of this great cat, he whispered without a single stutter, "One day, if I figure out how to speak, I will speak for you, too." There was something magical between them. With this wild creature, he could speak.
On the days between visits to that jaguar in the Bronx Zoo, the little boy endured harsh sentences--he heard grown-ups tell him he was broken, and he was sent to a school for disturbed children. Like that jaguar, he felt caged and misunderstood.
|"If I try to push words out, my head and body shake uncontrollably."|
Years went by and this little boy grew up and went to college in an experimental program that embraced his debilitating stutter, and grown ups encouraged him to be a "fluent stutterer." He worked hard to finally speak without stuttering. He found his voice.
But he still feels broken on the inside, still feels damaged and different and unsure how to use that voice. He studies black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains, then travels to Belize to study jaguars. He starts to feel connected to his voice, and he wants to use it to fulfill the promise he made to that one jaguar on that one day so long ago.
He begins to follow and capture jaguars for study before releasing them. He successfully argues for the world's first and only jaguar wildlife preserve. He becomes Dr. Alan Rabinowitz: a zoologist, a conservationist, a passionate advocate for the 36 big cat species of the world, what Time calls the "Indiana Jones of Wildlife Conservation." And today, he says he is grateful for his stuttering, because that disability led him to what he is most passionate about: jaguars.
This is an incredibly moving true story about working hard, keeping promises, finding your passion, and making the world a better place.
P.S. The illustrations by Cátia Chien are phenomenal, too!