We Became Jaguars by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Woodrow White

We Became Jaguars 
by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Woodrow White
Review Copy from Chronicle Books

**This book was aided by the input of the Young Editors Project. More details about this superlative program (and others) at the end of this review.

With his new picture book, Eggers captures that beautiful moment with little kids where fear of a stranger is transformed and common social practices are bypassed entirely. It's the moment when imaginations connect and play begins. 

We Became Jaguars, narrated by a young child, begins, "My grandmother came to visit. I had met her once before. She lived far away." Left alone together and clearly anxious, the narrator hides behind a plant as grandmother gets down on all fours and growls. "Let's be jaguars," she says. It takes two pages and some notes from grandmother, but the narrator finally becomes a lean, fast, fierce jaguar and, in the coolest two page, gatefold spread I have ever seen, the pair head out into the night "as jaguars."

White's thick strokes and painterly style highlight his richly colored nightscapes that seem to glow despite the darkness. The jaguars' faces are animated with just a few lines, amazingly shifting from humanesque to catlike over the course of the story. As the transformation evolves, so does the language of the narrator. Prowling the nearby woods, grandmother laughs "like great thunder and I laughed like lesser thunder and we jaguared on." From the top of a hill, the pair see most of the world. Drinking from a lake that looks "like silver and tasted like moonlight," the jaguars cast human reflections. Sated, grandmother says that they can run across the lake - if they are nimble. So nimbly, the pair "bounced across like marbles on glass." Resting and running, resting and running, somewhere in the Himalayas, the narrator realizes that school will be starting pretty soon and the pair should get back. Disappointed, grandmother looks at the narrator for a while through her "golden jaguar eyes," finally responding, "If you say so."

Heading into school, and arriving just in time, the narrator (seen from behind and in shadow, a shadow that is distinctly catlike) finds that grandmother has written a note - a clawed pawprint.

The elegance of the story and the illustrations, the subtlety of the relationship between the grandmother and grandchild, as well as the autonomy the adult gifts the child in We Became Jaguars is the rarest kind of magic to find in the pages of a picture book.


**In 2002, Eggers and award-winning educator Ninive Calegari (Founder, The Teacher Salary Project, a non-partisan organization dedicated to raising awareness around the impact of our national policy of underpaying and under-valuing teachers, CEO, Enterprise for Youth) founded 826 Valencia, which became 826 National a few years later. An organization that began as a single tutoring center to support over burdened teachers by connecting community members with students who could use their help the most, there are now nine chapters all over the U.S. (all with storefront businesses like the Time Travel Mart in L.A. and the Mid-Continent Oceanographic Institute in Minneapolis/St. Paul). Serving 80,000 students a year via 826 Digital and the nine chapters, and with over 5,000 volunteers, there are over 50 organizations around the world inspired by the 826 model collectively serving an additional 150,000 students, all with the goal of encouraging the exploration of endless possibility through the power of writing.

826 National is a truly amazing organization do essential work in teaching kids to write, something that has not been done in public schools, in my experience as a student and parent. While writing his first middle grade novel in 2017, Eggers, critically acclaimed award winning author of books for adults, assembled a committee of young editors, aged 8 - 12. Giving them his manuscript, they read it, marked it up and their notes made his book stronger. In 2018, along with Chronicle Books editor Taylor Norman and children's book author Mac Barnett, YEP was born! This important service provides authors writing for children from all over the world the an invaluable, unique opportunity while also giving young author-editors "a powerful and authentic experience as editors in the professional publishing world."

Working as a bookseller for twenty years and a school librarian for five (and being a parent for even longer) I have read thousands of children's books (many of them not worth buying) out loud to children and often wondered frequently if the authors read their manuscripts to real kids, or if the authors even read children's books at all. It is so gratifying to know that a respected author in turn respects, values and benefits from the input of kids - so much that he partnered with an editor and author to create YEP! I'll end with these wise words from YEP cofounders.

"It drives me crazy that no one in publishing ever talks to any kids other than their own. This is a perfect way to connect the people who make things with the people they make things for. We have needed this for a long time." - Taylor Norman, Editor, Chronicle Books

"I think it's important that people who write for kids actually talk to kids, which means listening to them, too." - Mac Barnett

Children's Books by Dave Eggers


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