Short review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

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The Jumbies
Tracey Baptiste
240 pages
Published in April 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers
Source: Public Library

The other kids in Corrine La Mer’s small Caribbean village may believe in jumbies, but she doesn’t. Who would really believe in fairy-like creatures that can shed their skin and put it back on or snatch kids into the forest? Life in her village is pretty quiet until a mysterious woman named Severine suddenly appears. The young girl knows trouble is brewing when she finds Severine at her house, trying to get close to Corrine’s father. After the stranger’s jumbie nature and plan to take over the island is exposed, every human is in danger. It will take all of Corrine’s courage, her misfit friends, and belief in magic to fight Severine. Can she help save everyone in time?

I picked up The Jumbies after seeing its creepy cover online. A young brown girl in a dark forest with glowing yellow eyes watching her? Count me in. Plus, the book takes place in the Caribbean and it’s based on Caribbean fairy tales?! Yes and yes.

I’m used to mostly European fairy tales like “Cinderella” and “Little Red”, so to find the rare book that deals with Caribbean fairy tales is something not to miss. Author Tracey Baptiste takes the fairy tales from her childhood and gives readers an engaging story that makes us want more books that feature fairy tales from non-European cultures. Publishers, are you listening?!

Think of jumbies as fairies in various forms. Baptiste does a fantastic job of bringing these creatures and their surroundings to life without making things confusing or explaining every single detail. That’s something I’ve noticed in a few children’s books lately when it comes to cultural aspects that a mainstream audience may not know about.

While the elements of fantasy were interesting, this isn’t a perfect book. At times I wanted more from the writing, but the plot did keep my attention. I thought it was strange that the protagonist was friendless at first in such a small village. I also wanted to know more about the local witch whose back story was suddenly included at the end without much support.

Even with the problems I had with this book, I can’t wait to read it with my kids. The Jumbies is a unique middle grade story that kids and adults will enjoy. My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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