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14:14 PB ELEMENTS – A Boy and a Jaguar – CONFLICT

February 14, 2015

This first book I selected to examine for the elements of this year’s 14:14 Challenge was a treasure-find.  Again, I am focusing this year on non-fiction, and this story, told in first-person point-of-view, testifies to the power of a young boy’s journey from disquieted childhood of doubt to an scientist’s passionate confidence.

A Boy and a Jaguar CvrA Boy and a Jaguar, by Alan Rabinowitz,
illustrated by Ca’Tia Chien
(c) 2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company

(789 words, AR Reading Level 3.8)

And what does that journey take? Conflict.

This story element is center stage from page one.  Young Alan, visiting the Bronx zoo with his father, wonders “Why is this jaguar kept in a bare room?”  Conflict between freedom and captivity leads the story right into the boy’s own internal conflict. As he leans close to the cage to whisper to the jaguar, his father asks “What are you doing?” (implying a conflict between safety and danger) and with a page turn, the boy relates,

“I try to explain, but my mouth freezes, just as I knew it would.  I am a stutterer. If I try to push words out, my head and body shake uncontrollably.”

Alan’s internal conflict with his inability is revealed.

The main character’s battle with his problem is emphasized by the layers of conflict that are described.  His problem poses a conflict with the education system; his parents have conflict with teachers. His problem conflicts with his own self esteem: “Am I broken?”

But Alan’s goal to solve his problem begins with the two things he can do without stuttering: sing–and talk to animals.  His five pets listen and understand. “Animals can’t get the words out, just as I can’t…” he realizes.  So his goal to solve his problem expands–to help animals who are ignored or misunderstood.

Throughout this book, Alan’s heart-wrenching battle goes on, but with small victories. He learns to accommodate, and in college learns through an experimental program and intense concentration to speak without stuttering. Even with this, however, the conflict has roots in his life: “…nothing has changed on the inside. I still feel broken.”

The rest of the story I’ll leave for you to discover. One final conflict–a fifteen minute moment–seems to be the break-over point for Alan. And then, as if to place his journey of courage and success in bookends, the author brings back the safety-danger conflict with a final scene that I’ll admit, brought tears to my eyes.

I realized with the reading of this book that layers of conflict deepen the meaning of a story, and highlight or emphasize the main character’s personal conflict and risk.

How have you used conflict in your writing? How has conflict in any of your work been layered to emphasize troubles or problems the main character experiences?

(See a list of other reviewers posts in Christi’s latest post at Write Wild.)

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Beth Gallagher permalink
    February 14, 2015 6:37 am

    Great post! Gives me alot to think about in adding conflict to my own writing. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. February 14, 2015 1:30 pm

    Yes, Damon…great inspiration and great information as well! I see I am going to have to make a huge list of the books everyone is studying…I’ve never heard of this one…it sounds compelling! Wonderful glad to join you in Christie’s challenge. 🙂

    • February 14, 2015 2:39 pm

      It is such a heart reaching story. The author is still active and working for wildlife in big ways. Google him, it’s amazing.

  3. ManjuBeth permalink
    February 14, 2015 2:33 pm

    I read A Boy and a Jaguar. The cover art drew me in, but the conflict kept me reading. Thanks for sharing!

  4. February 14, 2015 8:14 pm

    Sounds like a wonderful book! Love the example of multiple conflicts. Gonna have to head to the library.

  5. February 14, 2015 8:59 pm

    Great review of the conflict in this book. It sounds like the book would be both interesting and a good mentor text.

    • February 14, 2015 9:34 pm

      Thanks Sydney, yes, great mentor text. This whole exercise of examining a book for the major element of story is so informing to my craft.

  6. February 15, 2015 8:08 am

    Great review. I just added this book to my library hold list.

  7. Christie Wright Wild permalink
    February 15, 2015 10:40 pm

    Thanks for sharing, Damon. I really like how you showed what happens next, then next, then next. That helps give examples for how we need to think about the conflict in our own stories by making the end goal harder and harder to reach.

  8. February 16, 2015 6:33 pm

    I loved this book as well! (In fact, I’ll be using it to highlight a different element later in the challenge. It’s an element that you definitely hint at in your description!) I love how you describe the conflict for all of the characters involved. And I really appreciate the description of the internal conflict he feels. So often, this is what holds us back more so than any external conflict ever could. Something to definitely keep in mind in my own writing. Thanks Damon!

  9. February 18, 2015 4:15 pm

    This book is new to me. It sounds like a very insightful picture book.
    I know someone who stutters. I bet he would have liked this book as a child. Doesn’t ever child want to find a book where they can say “Hey, this is me. Whoever wrote this understand me and now others will, too.”

    Thanks for highlighting this book. I’ll keep it in mind.

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