Written by LeAnn Rimes, Illustrated by Richard Bernal
Dutton Children’s Books, 2003
In a dense cool corner of the rainforest, the great hunter waited under a large leaf.
What made this author famous? LeAnn Rimes is a country singer and songwriter and was the youngest person to ever win a Grammy when she won Best New Artist at the age of 14.
The hunter mentioned in the opening sentence is a baby jaguar and the butterfly she’s stalking moves along to another flower. She tries a roar and a whole bunch of butterflies fly into the air around her. Her name is Jacqueline, but she goes by Jag, and she likes to play alone in the rainforest. She visits her friend Isabel, the wise old parrot, and tells her that she’s nervous about starting school, mostly because she’s afraid of swimming lessons. Her mother tries to help her get comfortable in the water, but she just runs away. Isabel tells her that she’s either going to have to stand up to her fears or her peers. At school, the other three students (who are all friends already) mock her for her nickname and her fear of water. When a jaguar without spots joins their class, Jag is momentarily relieved when the three others start laughing at the new student instead of her, but then she thinks about how she felt when they laughed at her and she befriends the new student.
Author LeAnn Rimes tackles a few different issues in this picture book, including getting over fears, standing up to peer pressure and making new friends. Unfortunately, the end result is a clichéd storyline that seems to bounce all over the place with minimal character development. And I can’t help thinking that Jag is just a really unfortunate name. Ms. Rimes does a lot of work with the Friend Movement anti-bullying charity and I can see how this book addresses those types of issues, but the story just wasn’t interesting enough to recommend it. Richard Bernal’s illustrations are colorful and cute, but not really anything out of the ordinary. A sequel, Jag’s New Friend, was published in 2004.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that you’re going to have to stand up for yourself at some point or something is sure to knock you down.