Children's Literature - Kathleen Karr
Environmentalist author and illustrator Cowcher visited the Llanos (the great floodplains of Venezuela) to research this book on the jaguar. A simple, semi-mystical story of a hunter's fear of the great cat is used to explain the diminishing numbers of the endangered species. Postscript lessons reemphasize the important role of the cat within its environment. The illustrations, however, are what catch the eye. Striking, Rousseau-like images of jaguar, caiman, monkey, and rain forest mesmerize the eye and should certainly hold the attention of young readers.
School Library Journal
Gr 2-5Jaguar's yellow eye peering through mottled leaves on the book jacket evokes a sense of mystery that is deftly delivered in this striking natural-history tale. Like Cowcher's Tigress (Farrar, 1991), the spare story with bold paintings features the emotional conflict experienced by a human who comes face to face with an animal predator. Here a Venezuelan herdsman tracking the jaguar fears both the hunting prowess and the mystical powers his culture ascribes to the handsome animal. When the herdsman finally aims his gun, he cannot fire. "It is as if the glade has cast its spell upon him." He recalls how few big cats remain, where once there were many. Suddenly he has a flashing vision"a raging jaguar filling the air!an ancestral guardian protecting his own!" The mysticism and frank didacticism will best be understood by older children. On one level this encounter with conscience and the supernatural seems downright hokey, but it's beautifully executed in the paintings. Viewers of all ages will be drawn to the richly hued double-page scenes in which jaguar and the other floodplain animals interact. Cowcher's substantial endnotes offer information about the featured animals and jaguar spirit that will send most readers back for an appreciative rereading. The drama of the story and superb art followed by the factual explanations comprise a finely crafted presentation that will be widely appealing and useful as picture book and nonfiction.Margaret Bush, Simmons College, Boston
When the cover is spread to its full width, two huge eyes stare from behind broad green leaves, perhaps the most striking painting in this entry from Cowcher (Tigress, 1991, etc.), who continues to address the issue of coexistence between humans and nature.
Each spread becomes a wide canvas for color, shape, and form as Cowcher shows her subjecta jaguarstalked by a hunter in the Venezuelan Llanos, a flood plain that is home to many animal, bird, and reptile species, even during the dry season. Tracks left in the dust are the key to this king of the food chain; the hunterworried about his cattlefollows the signs, past iguana, blue morpho butterfly, and caiman, into the forest where the jaguar, an equally expert hunter, catches a howler monkey. There is mild suspense when the man finds his prey, only to experience a transformation: "The hunter's will to kill deserts him. He sinks to his knees in wonder at such power and beauty." The jaguar is spared"The land belongs to the jaguar as much as to him." As in Lynne Cherry's The Great Kapok Tree (1989), noble sentiments overwhelm the story. The simplicity of the text cannot bear the complexity of such a spiritual vision, which is not explained in context, but in a note that addresses the meaning of the "raging jaguar spirit" to the Central and South American hunters.