Here’s a scary adventure story perfect for this time of year.
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste. Algonquin Young Readers, 2015.
The woods of Trinidad are filled with jumbies, the collective term for a wide variety of supernatural creatures, with one thing in common: they do not mean humans well. Most of the residents of Corinne’s village stay away from the forest. Corinne’s father, though, doesn’t believe in the jumbies, and so Corinne feels free to take shortcuts through the woods. But when two pesky boys steal the necklace she inherited from her mother and tie it to a lizard that runs into the woods, Corinne is sure she hears things following her. It turns out that something even worse than the jumbies she’s grown up hearing about is after her – a jumbie in the shape of a beautiful woman who enchants her father so that he no longer recognizes Corinne. She has no choice but to join with the two boys (maybe too quickly, in my one quibble with the book), as well as another girl from the marketplace, Dru, to try to stop the jumbie before the whole village is taken over with them.
As a child, I read through all the books of folk tales from around the world that I could find, so I definitely agree with the author that Caribbean folk tales are hard to find, and novels based on them rarer yet. Baptiste – born and raised in Trinidad but now living in New York – has written a compelling story incorporating the folk lore she grew up with. (It was fun to hear her talk about this at Kidlitcon.) But even those who aren’t specifically interested in the folk tale can’t help but be captivated by the story. Corinne is a winning character, and the adventure is exciting on its own merits. Many of the jumbies are quite scary, from the one that looks like your grandmother until it takes off its skin and bursts into flame, to the ones that look like little kids in big hats that call your name and lure you into the forest, never to be seen again. They aren’t hands-off in this story, either. It’s nicely balanced with humor and affection, though, as Corinne builds friendships with the other children, works to save her beloved father and learns more about her power to grow.
Official disclaimer – this book is nominated for the Cybils award, but this is my personal opinion on the book, not the opinion of the Cybils committee.