Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

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Hardcover, 240 pages
Published April 28th 2015 by Algonquin Young Readers
Source: Publisher

“I remember her, you know,”Corinne told Pierre. “I remember my mama.”

“Do you?” Pierre asked with a smile.

“She had thick black braids that fells down the middle of her back.”

“Like yours?”

“Just like mine,” Corinne said with a smile. “And her skin was the deep brown color of earth.”

“Just like yours!” Pierre said.

“Yes. …”

In The Jumbies, Tracey Baptiste brings to life Caribbean folklore and mythology and provides fairytales for children who have always had to make do with existing in the margins of the hegemonic tales.

Corinne La Mer lives on an island with her father, Pierre; though the island is populated by other people, Corinne and her dad live apart from them. The island is thick with forest that is rumoured to be full of mythical creatures collectively called Jumbies. Corinne’s mother died a long time ago and all she has remaining of her are her memories, a pendant she gave Corinne, and the skill to grow the most delicious fruits.

When two homeless boys steal Corinne’s pendant and tie it to a small animal that runs into the forest, Corinne has no choice but to follow it–if she wants to get her mother’s keepsake back. Unbeknownst to her, she attracts the attention of a Jumbie while in the forest and her life changes dramatically when this Jumbie follows her out of the forest and into her life.

The Jumbies is meant for younger readers and lacks the complexity that would make it a successful crossover–that is to say, adults might find it a bit too simply for their tastes. However, The Jumbies contributes a lot to children’s literature. It is very empowering to see yourself reflected in novels and this novel succeeds in providing a reflection that is not often available in books meant for children.

I enjoyed the emphasis placed on friendship and understanding without judging another person’s actions and fears. I also loved the fact that instead of being black and white, the conflict between the jumbies and the humans are complicated by a post-colonial discourse, of sorts. If the jumbies are native to the island and were present before the humans, is the island not theirs first? And do they not have the right to fight for their home when the humans continually cut down forests and destroy places the jumbies built their homes? The novel presents opinions about colonialism in a very accessible manner and will be invaluable in classrooms for evoking discussions on the topic. Using fiction to discuss relevant social issues is not a new tool but it remains a successful one. The Jumbies will allow students to discover new mythologies and cultures while talking about important social issues.

The only complaint I do have of the novel is a very small one but I think it’s important to note anyway. One of the side characters (who is actually mentioned only once) is called Fatima. This would have been fine had the family she belonged to not been Sikh (Rootsingh–Singh is a Punjabi name) who would not normally have a family member called Fatima which is of Arabic origin. The name has a particular weight to it and is considered a Muslim name because it was the name of Prophet Mohammed’s daughter. I think little details like these are important, particularly in a book dealing with diversity. (As I keep saying, Shakespeare was wrong; names are important.)

I do recommend this book though. Whether in classrooms or libraries, personal or otherwise, the book’s presence is important. The Jumbies will allow children to find their images in books and will introduce other children to folklore and mystical creatures they may not be familiar with.

4 responses to “Review: The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

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