The Jumbies

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

This is an absolute must-buy for children’s librarians and elementary schools!

Forget trick-or-treating and bags full of candy, All Hallows Eve is when spirits and jumbies can mix freely with regular people. Corinne is tough to scare, but even she can’t quite shake off the creepy feeling she got when she noticed yellow eyes watching her from the forest.

In the days that follow, a fairy tale unfolds, complete with  a mysterious and dangerous beautiful stranger, a dark and foreboding forest, a witch, a helpful frog who repays a favor, and the powerful protection of a mother’s love.

But this is not your standard fairy tale.  Baptiste has blended together the jumbie stories she heard growing up on Trinidad with Haitian folklore to create an exciting, deliciously scary adventure.  Not only is it a welcome change of pace from the usual fairy tales that have been retold and retold, it’s got all the right stuff to captivate readers who don’t usually go for fairy tales.

Corinne lives close to the forest, a place rumored to be full of jumbies and evil spirits. She doesn’t share the fears of most of the villagers, but her strength will soon be tested. When a beautiful stranger appears at the market bargaining with a witch, Corinne and her friends are concerned, but when the woman later turns up in Corinne’s house, showing a marked interest in her papa, the nagging feeling in the pit of her stomach turns to full blown worry.  Soon she’ll find herself with no one to turn to except her new friends, a girl named Dru that she met at the market, and two orphaned boys who are often up to mischief.  As the stranger grows more powerful and more sinister, Corinne and her friends must act to save their island before it’s too late!

The depiction of  friendships in The Jumbies is definitely a strong point of the book. One of my favorite things is when a character lashes out in pain, fear and anger and her friends won’t listen to her defeatist talk.  For readers to learn that friends are capable of that kind of support, and that friends should be the kind of people who believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself is a powerful message.

Great for: I found this to be just the exact right amount of kid-scary.  There’s plenty of suspense and things that go bump in the night, but at the same time, the children in the story are both capable, and backed by loving adults.  It does an excellent job of evoking that sort of goosebumpy feeling, hopefully without causing too many little ones to sleep with the light on.  The familiar fairy tale tropes should offer sufficient reassurance that things will turn out okay, despite the baddies. That said, for the easily scared, daytime reading might be the safest choice.

This will also be magic for readers who love fairy tales and are growing weary of the same choices.  It doesn’t just offer a twist or retelling, it introduces a world that is unfamiliar to many readers and is full of its own excitement and magic.  Readers who find themselves longing for more of Corinne’s world might enjoy moving on to Bayou Magic.

Age Recommendation: Grades 3-8.  My third graders would have adored this and it would have been continuously checked out. I think older readers who are reading below grade level would find plenty to interest them and plenty to discuss.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – There’s brief discussion by the children that adults tend to pair off.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore –  A girl alone in the woods mutters “I’m going to kill those boys” in frustration.   Corinne’s mother has passed away.  It is All Hallow’s Eve when spirits and Jumbies make mischief. Someone is told that they will suffer if they do not help.  A Jumbie pulls on children’s feet when they are in the water, trying to drown them.  A jumbie and a woman struggle and fight.  A fish is gutted for dinner. A child is cut by a rock. A jumbie kills a small animal with its bare hands and then eats it bones and fur and all. A type of jumbie lures men into the forest and kills them.  Someone is pushed into burning hot spilled food.  A child narrowly misses being hit with a rolling pin.  The jumbies drowned people at sea. A child attacks a jumbie.  The jumbie is not hurt.  Another type of jumbie sheds its skin as a child holds its hand, leaving the child holding the empty shell as it prepares to attack with its body of fire. A fisherman is bleeding where he has been clawed. A firey jumbie is used to incinerate another type of jumbie. Villager have been hit with rocks.  The children survey a battlefield after the fight.  Victims have been dragged off and you can’t tell whether or not the victims were human.  A girl has a cut that is bleeding. A creature catches fire.  It howls in agony.  A girl’s hair catches on fire.  A jumbie sings about rotting bodies.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Corinne has been told stories about strange creatures.  There is a witch with powerful magic.  Two children live alone.  There are things called douens which are spirits that steal children.  They chase a human child.  Magic is used to control someone’s thoughts.  Slaves escape slave ships. A dog-like jumbie called a Lagahoo chases children.  Several children are taken by the douens. A child’s father is incapacitated by evil magic. A live jumbie’s body is full of insects crawling in and out of it.

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