I was introduced to Tracey Baptiste (pronounced buh TEEST) through a mutual writer friend who asked if I’d be interested in reading her book, THE JUMBIES, a few years ago. Of course I said yes, and that’s how I had the pleasure of reviewing Tracey’s first Middle Grade book, THE JUMBIES, on this blog.
I’m so excited to be talking with her, today, about her latest book in the series.
Tracey grew up with a love of Grimm’s fairy tales and has wanted to write since she was three years old. She was inspired to write for kids after reading Rosa Guy’s “The Friends”.
She worked as an elementary teacher before entering the world of publishing in the education market. She later moved into editing nonfiction books for kids. Now, as well as being an amazing author of books for kids, she is also a freelance editor for publishers and individual clients.
Tracey’s debut novel, ANGEL’S GRACE, a YA contemporary novel, was named one of the 100 best books for reading and sharing by the NYC librarians.
Her first Middle Grade novel, THE JUMBIES, was a Junior Library Guild Selection, a New York Public Libraries Staff Pick, one of Brightly’s Best Kids Books of 2015, a We Need Diverse Books “Must Read,” and named to Bank Street’s Best Books of 2016.
Tracey is a contributor to the outstanding blog The Brown Bookshelf that pushes awareness of the myriad of African American voices writing and illustrating for young readers. The American Library Association selected The Brown Bookshelf as a Great Website for Kids.
Before the interview, let’s learn more about Tracey’s latest book:
RISE OF THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste
Release Date: September 19, 2017
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
The sequel to the highly praised novel The Jumbies takes Corinne and her friends on another spine-tingling adventure under the sea.
Corinne LaMer defeated the wicked jumbie Severine months ago, but things haven’t exactly gone back to normal in her Caribbean island home. Everyone knows Corinne is half-jumbie, and many of her neighbors treat her with mistrust. When local children begin to go missing, snatched from the beach and vanishing into wells, suspicious eyes turn to Corinne.
To rescue the missing children and clear her own name, Corinne goes deep into the ocean to find Mama D’Leau, the dangerous jumbie who rules the sea. But Mama D’Leau’s help comes with a price. Corinne and her friends Dru, Bouki, and Malik must travel with mermaids across the ocean to the shores of Ghana to fetch a powerful object for Mama D’Leau. The only thing more perilous than Corinne’s adventures across the sea is the foe that waits for her back home.
With its action-packed storytelling, diverse characters, and inventive twists on Caribbean and West African mythology and fairy tales, Rise of the Jumbies will appeal to readers of A Snicker of Magic, A Tale Dark and Grimm, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.
This book has already garnered rave reviews:
Kirkus starred review
“A stirring and mystical tale sure to keep readers thinking past the final page.”
“Young readers are probably familiar with Greek myths, thanks to Rick Riordan, and other enduring European classics, so this series with twists on Caribbean (particularly Haitian and Trinidadian) and West African tales is a welcome change.”
School Library Journal starred review
“The novelty of the fantasy elements, the complex characters, and the superb world-building combine in a tale well worth reading, both as a sequel and a stand-alone . . . A stellar recommendation for fans of edgy fantasy such as Aaron Starmer’s ‘The Riverman Trilogy’ or Adam Gidwitz’s ‘A Tale Dark and Grimm’ series, and, of course, fans of the first book.”
I’m so excited to read this book! The first one was so wonderful, and looking at these reviews, I have high hopes for this next one.
Valerie Lawson: I absolutely fell in love with THE JUMBIES, your first middle grade novel. From the fantastic cast of characters to that lush, vibrant setting, you make the Caribbean come alive. What made you want to tell this story?
Tracey Baptiste: I’d always wanted this story as a kid. I grew up on Grimm’s fairy tales, and wanted to see a jumbie story in an actual book, but there weren’t any.
I also wanted my children to know about jumbies. They knew a little, but got really interested when I started telling them about what I was writing. It was wonderful to pass on that bit of culture to them because they were so receptive.
VL: So wonderful that you’re passing on these stories.
I love the gorgeous mermaids on the cover for your next story, RISE OF THE JUMBIES. Does this give some hints about what’s in store for Corinne and her friends, what more can you tell us?
TB: Yes! The mermaids were actually the creatures that were the most compelling for me in this story because they lay out a very complicated statement that I wanted to make about enslaved people, forced assimilation, and losing/finding one’s culture.
It’s a difficult thing to try to discuss with children, so the mermaids were very helpful in bearing that out in the story. This is really separate from Corinne’s story. In the main story arc, the mermaids are there to transport Corinne and her friends on a quest.
VL: You spooked us into not wanting to go alone into the woods in your first book, looks like your next book might do the same for the ocean. Is this Jaws with a twist for kids?
TB: In the first one, most of the scary stuff happens on land, and in this one most of the scary stuff happens in the sea, but the fear factor comes almost entirely from jumbies. A shark appears, but only very briefly.
VL: Ha! Those jumbies are indeed more frightening than a shark!
You pull no punches when putting your characters through difficult situations and having them face scary creatures, what’s the scariest nightmare you ever had as a kid?
TB: I had a recurring nightmare where I was running down a dark hallway with someone following me, but I was moving molasses-slow so I knew I would be caught. I always woke up before that happened, though.
VL: Yikes! I always hate when I can’t move fast enough in dreams. Good thing you woke up in time.
THE JUMBIES series is a departure from your debut YA novel and your non-fiction writing, talk about the creative process for bringing these books to life. How was it different from your previous writing?
TB: My first novel, ANGEL’S GRACE, was really an exercise in seeing if I could finish an entire novel. I had tried and abandoned novels before, but I was determined to finish this one. Making it a mystery was a bit of a trick, because mysteries have a structure built in. You have to get to the “what/who/how” that closes the story.
Writing nonfiction is very different because it’s a matter of stringing together the available information into something that has appeal, but that doesn’t have bias. It’s like putting together a puzzle where you have to actively go out, find, and verify each of the pieces.
VL: Writing the second novel in a series is always a challenge, how was the process different/more difficult than the first? Did you write the first book as a series in mind?
TB: I had an idea for a second book when I wrote the first one, but it wasn’t bought as a series, so I didn’t give a lot of thought to what would come next. Then when they asked for a sequel, I struggled to make things fit, maintain the continuity of the story, and still up the ante. It was very, very difficult.
I tooled around with THE JUMBIES for about 9 years before I finally sold it, and I had 9 months to write RISE. Even coming up with the title was rough. It came down to the day before the sequel was announced, and we were still going back and forth on possible titles.
VL: I think good titles are so difficult. That really came down to the wire!
Corinne and her friends have many memorable, and scary, adventures while battling the Jumbies, what’s the most memorable adventure from your childhood?
TB: The dad of one of my best friends was a captain of the MV Tobago, a ferry that went between Trinidad and Tobago, and one week he took us on board and we got to have some adventures in Tobago where we were pretty much by ourselves for a week. (Her dad was nearby, but we had a wide rein.) We were 14 and there were…some shenanigans…
VL: Hmm…sounds like a story’s in there somewhere. 🙂
What’s been your favorite book to read/book you’ve been most excited about over the past year?
TB: I loved THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON by Kelly Barnhill, which rightly won the Newbery. It’s a modern classic fairy tale (my favorite) but also delves into the idea of people who create and maintain their own power through lies.
I was also very excited about TWO NAOMIS by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Audrey Vernick, which is a sweet story in two voices about girls who are dealing with their parents dating each other, and being thrust into each other’s lives.
VL: I absolutely adore the cover of THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON! I put that on my must-read list just for that. I will definitely add TWO NAOMIS to that list, too.
What would your dream assignment be? What would you most like to write about?
TB: I have so many things floating around in my brain. I’d by happy if people would just allow me to keep writing and they would read it. But I’m most excited to write books that have a heavy science base. I quite like science and math, and I think it would be fun to come up with a story that gets geeky kids (like me when I was a kid) excited.
VL: Geeky is right up my alley! Sounds fun!
Tell us what’s coming up next for you? What are you currently working on?
TB: I’m working on another nonfiction book that uncovers some parts of history that have been absent in our culture and in our educational offerings. (I’m still at heart, a teacher, so I can’t help thinking about what kids are doing in the classroom.)
There’s not much I can say about it now because I’ve only just begun researching, and the fun of researching is you never know what’s going to turn up.
VL: We will definitely keep an eye out for your future projects.
Thank you so much for joining us, today, Tracey. It’s been such a pleasure talking with you!
And remember, you can pre-order Tracey’s new book RISE OF THE JUMBIES. It releases on September 19th!
Learn more about Tracey Baptiste here.
Follow Tracey on Facebook here.
Follow Tracey on Twitter here.
Follow the Brown Bookshelf blog here.