afro-caribbean, folktales, middle grade, scary

Middle Grade Must-Read: The Jumbies

The Jumbies (Algonquin Young Readers)
Written by Tracey Baptiste

If you are like me, you might have never heard of a jumbie before. A jumbie is a mythological spirit or demon in the folklore of Caribbean countries like Trinidad & Tobago or Jamaica. They are the centerpiece of the first book in a middle-grade fantasy series that brings a unique mythos to young readers. Corrine Le Mer is an 11-year-old girl who lives with her widower father. She sells oranges in the market to make extra money and seems to have an almost supernatural green thumb. One day, a couple of troublemaking boys tie her late mother’s necklace to a wild animal. Corrine chases after it to retrieve the heirloom. A jumbie takes notice of her and follows the girl out of the jungle. Eventually, we learn the jumbie is directly related to Corrine, and the little girl’s mother never revealed something about herself while she lived.

This is book one in a series that debuted in 2015. Since then, two more books have been published (Rise of the Jumbies & The Jumbie God’s Revenge). I’ve only read this one and found it to be very entertaining. This is a quick read, with some chapters clocking in at only a page (or even a paragraph) while others go on for five or six. If I had one critique of the text, it would be that there’s some uneven pacing happening. I don’t think that will ruin a young reader’s time, though, because the main character and the situation she gets herself into are very interesting. 

The central theme of The Jumbies is balance within a community. In Corrine’s world, you have the humans taking up most of her island home. In the jungle are the Jumbies and a host of other supernatural beings that resent much of what the humans do. In the center is the witch, a human with strong bonds to the supernatural who plays a mediator’s role. In some instances, the witch must stand aside and let bad things happen because the balance of the community has been thrown off. You can easily read this as a metaphor for our ongoing climate collapse. It is a community of people learning to find balance with the natural world they rely on to survive. If you’re looking for a spooky read for a child who loves horror and folklore, The Jumbies is a great place to take them.

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