Pair of picture books share how children find strength in differences

Published: Tuesday, June 17 2014 5:00 p.m. MDT

"A Boy and a Jaguar" is by Alan Rabinowitz.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Children’s language begins and develops at individual rates and with unique qualities. Some may speak clearly at age 1, while others perfect their speech at a later time or with a less sophisticated vocabulary.

In some cases, children have neurological problems with certain speech patterns or sounds. They may have a lisp or stutter.

The following are two examples told though recent picture books of such children, their speech differences and the remarkable accomplishments they achieved in later life.

A BOY AND A JAGUAR,” by Alan Rabinowitz, illustrated by Catia Chien, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99 (all ages)

The little boy whispers to his favorite big cat in the zoo, but when he tries to explain to his father why he does this, he cannot.

“I am a stutterer," he admits to himself. "The teachers think I am broken.”

The boy’s family tries doctors, medicine, even hypnosis, but the only two things he can do without stuttering is sing and talk to animals. As a young man, he learns how the air flows and his mouth moves without stuttering. Finally, when he can speak fluently, he thinks, “I can speak, but nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken.”

“A Boy and a Jaguar” is author Alan Rabinowitz’s story: a young life set aside by inner turmoil and unhappiness followed by a career dedicated to wildlife conservation.

Rabinowitz’s conservation work has led to the establishment of the first jaguar sanctuary and protected areas and reserves for the world’s large animals. Published widely, Rabinowitz has been called “the Indiana Jones of wildlife conservation” by Time magazine.

His is also as an advocate for stutterers and serves as a spokesperson for the Stuttering Foundation of America. Of writing this book, he said, “Differences can open us up to incredible world experiences, experiences that make us stronger and more compassionate as we grow into adulthood.”

“A Boy and a Jaguar” may encourage not only children with speech problems but also children with any kind of “difference.”

CLARA AND DAVIE,” by Patricia Polacco, Scholastic, $17.99 (ages 4-8)

Clara and her brother, Davie, were almost inseparable. When Clara was a baby, Davie cared for her needs. He even taught her to “sit bareback on a horse almost before she could walk.”

He protected her when she was teased by classmates or punished for not “pronouncing words properly.”

Clara had the special talent of caring for animals. They didn’t mind that she was shy around people and had a lisp when she talked. Over the years, Clara’s reputation as a healer spread, and she helped neighbors treat their sick animals. Once when Davie was badly injured from a fall and it was feared he would be an invalid for life, Clara encouraged him to walk again.

Clara Barton’s skill of healing led her to become a medical practitioner. In May 1881, she founded the American Red Cross. Author’s notes provide biographical information on Barton, who is an ancestor of author Patricia Polacco.

Email: marilousorensen@ymail.com