A dear writer friend of mine, Gwendolyn Hooks, asked if I would like to read this ARC as her own work load had recently increased dramatically. I would do just about anything for Gwen, so I didn’t even hesitate to say ‘yes’. Gwen’s a well published children’s author in her own right with over 20 children’s books under her belt. (If you count the ones I can’t tell you about, yet. And oh, I wish I could! She’s got some fantastic projects coming out soon.) Meanwhile, you can find her on her website above and she also contributes over at The Brown Bookshelf.
I was delighted to receive this first Middle Grade book from Tracey Baptiste, THE JUMBIES. After reading about Tracey’s background, it was easy to see how much Grimm’s fairy tales influenced her life and why as a writer she wanted to see fairy tales that reflected her own background. She grew up in Trinidad and had always heard fantastic tales about creatures called soucouyants (soo-coo-YAHs) that could shed their skin at night, and the douens (dwens) with their backwards feet that lured children away into the forest. And of course, the jumbies (JUM-bees) the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that came out at night to cause trouble. I fell in love with Tracey’s story. Her take on a classic Haitian folktale called “The Magic Orange Tree” is beautifully written. Her fantastic cast of characters and lush, vibrant setting make you feel immersed in her Caribbean island. Be forewarned! This tale isn’t some cozy, tropical vacation and it’s not for the weak at heart, oh, no! If you like spooky tales, this is the book for you. THE JUMBIES written by Tracey Baptiste Published by: Algonquin Young Readers Release Date: April 28, 2015 Genres: Middle Grade, Fantasy Plot Summary:
A spine-tingling tale rooted in Caribbean folklore that will have readers holding their breath as they fly through its pages.
Corinne La Mer isn’t afraid of anything. Not scorpions, not the boys who tease her, and certainly not jumbies. They’re just tricksters parents make up to frighten their children. Then one night Corinne chases an agouti all the way into the forbidden forest. Those shining yellow eyes that followed her to the edge of the trees, they couldn’t belong to a jumbie. Or could they?
When Corinne spots a beautiful stranger speaking to the town witch at the market the next day, she knows something unexpected is about to happen. And when this same beauty, called Severine, turns up at Corinne’s house, cooking dinner for Corinne’s father, Corinne is sure that danger is in the air. She soon finds out that bewitching her father, Pierre, is only the first step in Severine’s plan to claim the entire island for the jumbies. Corinne must call on her courage and her friends and learn to use ancient magic she didn’t know she possessed to stop Severine and save her island home.
With its able and gutsy heroine, lyrical narration, and inventive twist on the classic Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” The Jumbies will be a favorite of fans of Breadcrumbs, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. (Plot summary from publisher website.)
Corinne is a beautifully written, strong female character and I loved her story from beginning to end. As someone who grew up with a single dad, I could completely relate Corinne’s special bond with her father and understand how she’d do anything to try to save him. As Corinne struggles to save him and eventually finds her inner strength, it is a beautiful thing to behold. The secondary characters were just as wonderful and complex. The two orphan boys, Bouki and Malik, who cause Corrine such grief in the beginning, become her fiercest allies. Having lived on their own for so long, they understand how the world works and how to fight for a friend. And Dru, the smallest and youngest of seven children, befriends Corinne in the marketplace where she sells her oranges. Once Corinne is in trouble, Dru leaves the safety of her mother to do something big to help save her friend. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the story:
“I’m not going to hurt you,” she said in her calmest voice. She eased closer. “I just need that thing on your leg. You’ll be able to run much faster without it, and I won’t be chasing you…so…” She moved with care toward the ‘gouti and gently untied the silk cord. The animal’s coarse fur shivered and its pulse beat as fast as her own. Corinne closed her fist firmly around the stone pendant and crawled back out of the bush.
She rubbed the stone with her thumb. Over years of constant handling, she had worn a smooth groove that fit her finger perfectly. The pendant had been her mama’s, and when she put her thumb into the little hollow, she imagined her mama’s hand around her own. Corinne breathed a sigh of relief now that it was back in her possession, but her relief did not last long.
She didn’t know this part of the forest. And it was darker here. The branches of the mahogany trees were so thick that barely any light came through. It even smelled different, of wood and wet earth, while Corinne was used to the smell of the sea. She had no idea which way was out.
Somewhere between the leaves, Corinne thought she saw a pair of lights shining. They were close together, like eyes. Her skin prickled, but then the lights disappeared and Corinne tried to shake off her fear. The little bit of light must have been reflecting on something. Don’t be silly, she scolded herself. “I’m going to kill those boys,” she muttered into the heavy air.
A pair of yellow-bellied birds alighted on a branch overhead, and called out, kis-ka-dee kis-ka-dee! Something small scratched through the undergrowth. A cold lump formed in Corrine’s stomach and began to spread. She had heard grown-ups tell stories about terrible things that lived in hidden pockets of the island, like this forest filled with ancient mahogany trees. They talked about creatures with backward feet, and women who could shed their skin, and women with hooves for feet. Even though her papa told her these stories were not true, there must have been a reason no one ever came this far into the forest.
This is just the beginning of the goosebumps. Tracey’s rich storytelling kept me completely engrossed (and may have encouraged me to sleep with the light on a few times after some late-night reading sessions). Corinne’s story is truly a welcome and refreshing edition to the world of fairytales. I highly recommend this book. You won’t be able to put it down once you start.
Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.
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You can preorder a copy of this wonderful book for yourself here: