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In the Land of the Jaguar

South America and Its People

Written by Gena K. GorrellAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gena K. Gorrell
Illustrated by Andrej KrystoforskiAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Andrej Krystoforski

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South America’s story is as varied as its geography of soaring mountains, scorching deserts, and lush rainforests. In Ecuador alone, there are 25,000 kinds of plants, 1,500 species of birds, 4,500 different butterflies, and 300 mammals! Gena K. Gorrell’s brilliant text combines an often tragic history with the problems and triumphs of the present. The information she offers ranges from “the Requirement” (a document read out by the conquistadors each time they came upon a new group of indigenous people to justify their actions) to drug cartels, from the hidden and secretive Elders (a civilization that retreated to the mountains to preserve its customs and now considers itself the “guardian of the world”) to Gabriel García Márquez.

Replete with Andrej Krystoforski’s vibrant illustrations, maps, an index, and bibliography, In the Land of the Jaguar: South America and Its People is a fascinating, colorful journey of exploration and discovery.
Gena K. Gorrell|Andrej Krystoforski

About Gena K. Gorrell

Gena K. Gorrell - In the Land of the Jaguar
Gena K. Gorrell is not only a highly respected editor, but also an award-winning author of nonfiction for young people, including In the Land of the Jaguar: South America and It's People and Working Like a Dog: The Story of Working Dogs through History. Her books have won many honors, including the Norma Fleck Award for Nonfiction for Heart and Soul: The Story of Florence Nightingale. Gena K. Gorrell has also been a first-aid instructor and a volunteer officer in the Toronto Police Marine Unit. She lives in Toronto with her husband and dog.

About Andrej Krystoforski

Andrej Krystoforski - In the Land of the Jaguar
Andrej Krystoforski was born in Poland during World War II. After earning a master’s degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, he began working as an illustrator and designer. Several years after receiving an art scholarship from the Kosciusko Foundation in New York, he emigrated to the United States. Andrej won many national and international awards before moving to Canada, where his interest in animation led to his involvement in the creation of many television shows and features including Pippi Longstocking, Heidi, Seven Little Monsters, Little Bear, Bob and Margaret, and Max and Ruby. Today, Andrej Krystoforski lives in Canada, creating children’s and young adult book illustrations.


Praise for Working Like a Dog:

“A thoroughly researched and captivating offering…. Report writers will find a wealth of information here, and all readers will gain a strong appreciation for these four-legged wonders.”
School Library Journal
Teachers Guide

Teacher's Guide


South America is a land of indescribable natural beauty, from parched deserts to azure glaciers, from steaming rainforests to belching volcanoes. This is a world of sloths, anteaters, armadillos, ocelots, giant
blue butterflies, and a rainbow’s worth of hummingbirds. Its history is packed with tales of gold mines and pyramids, explorers and pirates, reckless bravery and savage treachery.

In the Land of the Jaguar presents an overview of the thirteen countries of South America, and their history and peoples. Each country is treated separately, with common topics and themes being developed
throughout the text. Beginning with the geological formation of the continent, the book follows the historical thread through early cultures, the Inca Empire, the European conquest, the colonial years and the wars of independence, to the present.

While acknowledging today’s problems – oppression, economic injustice, ecological threat, and the violence and corruption so often rooted in the illegal drug trade – the book celebrates the extraordinary beauty
of the land, and the joy, energy, and artistic creativity of its people. Welcome to the other America. Isn’t it
time we got to know it better?


GENA GORRELL is a book editor and an award winning writer of nonfiction for young people. In five trips (so far!) to South America, she has traveled through the rainforest by dugout canoe, slept in a hut with a resident tarantula the size of a dinner plate, huffed and puffed through the mountaintop citadel of Machu Picchu, and
scuba dived with hammerhead sharks in the Galápagos. And she can’t wait to go back. Gena lives in Toronto with her husband and her dog.


Imagine folding a map of the Western Hemisphere in half, on a horizontal line across the top of South America. Compare the Arctic and the Antarctic. Compare the Rockies and the Andes. What are some other geographical similarities? What are some differences?

In 1494, Pope Alexander VI drew a line down a map of the Atlantic Ocean, granting Portugal the rights to what he thought was empty ocean. What was he really giving Portugal? What were the results of this mistake? What were some other mistakes that Europeans made about the Americas?

When hundreds of thousands of Africans were sold into slavery to work in the mines and fields of South America, many found ways to preserve their own culture and identity. How did they do this? What did they gain by doing it, that made it worth the effort and the risk?

Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda wrote inventive poetry about simple, everyday factors of life in Chile. Ask each student to imagine living in a South American country, and to write a brief poem about some aspect of life there.

Have each student create a travel poster for one of the thirteen countries in South America. (These might include plant and animal life, scenic sites, historical events.)

Have students research the drugs and medicines derived from plants in the rainforest. Ask students to prepare a project on one unique species found in the Galápagos.


1. Europeans invaded South America in the name of God and Christianity, but they often treated the native people very cruelly. Ask the class to discuss what factors helped the Europeans persuade themselves that it was acceptable to commit acts that were against their own moral guidelines.

2. When the European invaders arrived, they dismissed the religions of all the indigenous peoples as wrong and meaningless, insisting that the Christian god was the only true god. Discuss the effects of this attitude, in various religions, in the past and present.

3. Sir Francis Drake robbed and vandalized and murdered at will, yet some people saw him as an exciting, romantic hero. Why are pirates and other criminals sometimes admired for their violent deeds?

4. After studying plants and animals and geology around the world, Charles Darwin realized that species evolve over time, and developed a theory of how and why this happens. Many people were shocked and angry when they heard his explanation. Why do scientific discussions of evolution arouse such strong emotions?

5. Areas like the Amazon rainforest are vital to Earth’s ecology, and they hold uncounted plants and animals whose secrets we have yet to discover. But these areas are often endangered by farmers and other workers who are struggling to feed their families. What are some ways to save these irreplaceable environments, and at the same time help the people who live there?

6. We hear about celebrities using illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. Discuss the effects of the illegal drug trade and the drug cartels on the working people in the countries where the drugs originate.


1. Cut out the shapes of the world’s continents, and rearrange them into the continent of Pangaea, a hundred million years ago. What are some of the reminders we find that Africa and South America were once part of the same landmass?

2. The Incas controlled a vast empire of conquered peoples, and had a sophisticated system of administration, yet they could not read or write. Consider how much of our own government depends on reading and writing. What are some of the problems the Incas faced without these skills, and how did they solve them?

3. Simón Bolívar is celebrated in South America as El Libertador (The Liberator). On a map of South America, locate all the countries that he helped liberate from the rule of Spain. Discuss the fact that, after working so hard to free all these countries, he decided that he wanted to rule them as a dictator.

4. Gold has been traded around the world as a precious commodity for many thousands of years. It has been mined, molded, worshipped, stolen, smuggled, sold, melted down, stamped into coins, remelted, and recyled. Imagine a gold ring in a jeweler’s shop. Make up a “life history” of the adventures that this bit of gold might have been part of, over the years.

5. South America has parched deserts, steamy jungles, and towering mountain ranges. What are some of the ways in which plants and animals have adapted to these extreme conditions?

6. Ask students to research South America’s rainforest. Why is it important to the whole world? How much of the rainforest has been lost?


The Language of String
The Incas had no written language, but they managed to run and control a vast empire, keeping track of people, animal herds, and resources. Specially trained men called quipucamayocs (quipu keepers) used a series of strings with knots to record all this data. The quipu was even used as a mnemonic device to record historical events. Where the knots were tied, along with the length and color of the strings all must have had specific meanings, but with the death of the last quipu keeper in the early colonial period, the code was lost forever.

The Nazca Lines
Although the strange lines the Nazca people had constructed in the deserts already had been observed, it wasn’t until 1941 that they were seen from the air. Then the immensity of the lines was revealed. Aerial photographs show that the lines cover 200 square kilometers (77 square miles) of the vast Nazca Plains. There are thousands of these geoglyphs, but only about fifty of them represent human, animal, or supernatural figures. The rest are straight lines, triangles, rectangles, quadrangles and trapezoids. Some of the straight lines are up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) long. Many of them go up and down hills and some converge on knolls. We know it wasn’t difficult to build the lines The desert here is covered with a thin layer of loose stones. When they are pushed aside, a lighter color earth is exposed. A team of modern scientific volunteers made a
small line in 90 minutes and estimate that the largest trapezoid on the plains could have been made by 100 people working ten hours a day for two days.
The Nazca Lines have been called the largest astronomy book in the world. And at first many mathematicians and astronomers believed the lines represented a calendar system. Later, other people declared that the lines were landing strips for ancient aliens. In the 1980s a team of astronomers demonstrated that the lines were not aligned to specific stars and did not represent a calendar for determining the seasons. Instead, it is now thought that the lines were probably pathways leading to ceremonial centers or sacred locations. The animal figures may relate to the astronomical myths of the Nazca people. But once again, the real meaning behind these strange lines may remain a mystery forever.


Lost Treasure of the Inca by Peter Lourie
ISBN 1563977435

Inca Town by Fiona Macdonald
ISBN 053114481X

Darwin and the Beagle by Alan Moorehead
ISBN 0140033270

cultures of the world series
Argentina by Ethel Gofen
ISBN 1854353810

Bolivia by Robert Pateman
ISBN 0761401784

Brazil by Christopher Richard and Leslie Jermyn
ISBN 1854313596

Chile by Jane Kohen Winter
ISBN 1854353837

Colombia by Jill Dubois
ISBN 1854353845

Ecuador by Erin Foley
ISBN 0761401733

Paraguay by Leslie Jermyn
ISBN 0761409793

Peru by Kieran Falconer
ISBN 0761401792

Uruguay by Leslie Jermyn
ISBN 0761408738

Venezuela by Jane Kohen Winter and Kitt Baguley
ISBN 0761413626

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