Caribbean Creatures Sure to Spook and Delight Young Readers in Looking for a Jumbie
Written by Tracey Baptiste; Illustrated by Amber Ren
Published by HarperCollins Children’s, 2021
“I’m looking for a jumbie. I’m going to find a scary one.” This refrain, reminiscent of Michael Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, serves as an anchor throughout Naya’s adventure to find jumbies. Illustrated as a young Black girl with her hair in a high ponytail and with large dark eyes, Naya is determined to prove to her Mama that jumbies are real. Jumbies are described in an introductory letter to readers as creatures from Caribbean stories much like fairies or trolls who hide and play tricks on humans. As explained in the front matter, “Jumbies are often in scary stories told to frighten children into staying inside after dark, but jumbies can also be helpful.” Readers of author Tracey Baptiste’s popular chapter book series The Jumbies will be familiar with these trickster characters and Baptiste’s abilities to scare and delight readers through her signature retelling of Haitian-inspired folklore. Looking for a Jumbie is Baptiste’s debut picturebook that brings the folklore of jumbies to young readers expanding the audience for these folkloric stories to bring children stories outside of European roots. As in her chapter book series, the main character of Naya is a fierce, fearless, female who readers will find a joyful companion on this adventure around her island to find the illusive jumbies. Along the way, Naya hears a voice whisper from the leaves and meets her first creature who is invited to help Naya on her search. Each new creature she meets tells her jumbies aren’t real, but readers are left to infer that they are in fact the jumbies and that they are surprisingly helpful. Illustrations by Amber Ren use a palette of deep blues to represent the darkening night sky while Naya and the jumbies seem to pop off the page in bright colors thereby toning down the spooky nature of these creatures for young readers. While Mama says jumbies are only in stories, readers are left to believe what they want to believe about what’s real and what’s imagined. Just in time for Halloween, Looking for a Jumbies is a picturebook whose spooky twists will grip young readers but it serves as a welcome addition to folklore stories available for young readers all year long.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Note to our Readers: These ideas are not meant to be prescriptive. Choose one. Choose more. It’s up to you. Some ideas are bigger and will take a number of days to complete. Some are shorter. You can also choose to complete one part of a teaching idea, but not the whole thing. It’s up to you!
Choral Reading. The sing-song nature of the refrain “We’re looking for a jumbie. We’re going to find a scary one” is a perfect invitation for the voices of young readers to join you as you read across the pages during a read-aloud. This particular refrain is also an opportunity to incorporate physical movements or small gestures to make the story even more memorable and interactive. Invite students to help you think of gestures that match the spirit of going on an adventure, looking for a jumbie, and finding a scary one. You may have students eager to hear the book again. Use Looking for a Jumbie as a repeated read-aloud to invite more student participation with each reading and to help students engage in more specific literacy skill-buildling with each reading.
“We’re Looking for a ____” Books. The refrain “We’re looking for a jumbie. We’re going to find a scary one” invites not only choral reading but also collaborative writing. Pair Looking for a Jumbie with We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen (your students may particularly love this performance by Rosen of the story). Invite students to create their own “We’re looking for a ____. We’re going to find a ___ one” stories inspired by Baptiste and Rosen. Depending on your class, this may be the perfect opportunity for shared writing where you gather ideas from the class or interactive writing where you share the pen with students as they compose ideas. You may also want to extend this exercise into partner or independent writing for students to create their own “We’re looking for a ___” books that they later read or perform for classmates or families.
Retelling through Role Playing. Invite students to retell Looking for a Jumbie in small groups by becoming the characters. Support students to look back at the story for what happened first, next, after that, and finally. Reinforce the academic language of story structure by supporting students to name who the various characters are that Naya meets, where the story takes place, and what happens along the way. Some students may particularly enjoy becoming the various jumbies. Support critical thinking by having them consider whether they think the jumbie characters are spooky or helpful or both (see the Class Debate invitation below to further their thinking about this).
Douen, Lagahoo, Soucouyants–Oh My. Learning about Jumbies. As Naya’s adventure unfolds, we learn about the types and characteristics of different kinds of jumbies. Keep track of these characters through a T-chart that lists the types of jumbies and what we learn about them from the dialogue and from the illustrations. Learn more about jumbies by viewing this video where Tracey Baptiste introduces us to jumbies. Learn about other jumbies in this entry from The Brown Bookshelf about the story behind The Jumbies from Tracey Baptiste. Invite students to create illustrations of jumbies as they imagine them based on the descriptions from the book and these other sources and create a class display of these creatures.
Helpful or Scary or Both? Class Debate. Invite students to deepen their thinking and form opinions about whether they think the jumbies in Looking for a Jumbie are helpful or scary or both. Have students share their opinions and then gather together with students who have the same opinion. Have these small groups then create an argument about why they think readers should think about jumbies as helpful or scary or both. Can characters be more than one thing in our minds as readers? Invite students to make connections between the kinds of assumptions we have about jumbies and books like Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell which challenges our assumptions about stories with girls in red-hooded jackets who encounter wolves.
Caribbean Text Set. Gather other Caribbean folklore books for students to learn more about trickster and classic folklore tales from this region of the world including African and Caribbean Folktales, Myths, and Legends by Wendy Shearer and Kallaloo! A Caribbean Tale by Phillis and David Gershator. Invite students to share their favorites and to engage in reader response engagements that deepen their learning from these tales including drawing, role playing, and bookmaking. Then, invite students to encounter picturebooks that tell them more about life in the Caribbean beyond folklore from books like Islandborn by Junot Díaz , Drum Dream Girl by Margarita Engle, If Dominican Were a Color by Sili Recio, Caribbean Dream by Rachel Isadora, and Island Counting 123 by Frane Lessac.
Folkloric Tales at Home. Discuss the transmission of folkloric stories from one generation to the next through oral storytelling. Invite students to talk to family members about the kinds of stories they heard growing up or that come from their cultures and countries of origin. You may have students that have heard jumbie tales at home and that can serve as class experts of these stories. Have students share what they learned about the stories that are central to who they are or where they are from. Have a conversation as a class about the purpose of telling these kinds of stories within and across cultures? Do the stories serve to entertain, instruct, and/or scare children into rule following? Have students notice similarities and differences between the stories they hear about at home.
Folklore Beyond European Stories. Looking for a Jumbie is a uniquely original picturebook that begins to fill a gap in the children’s books available to young people that represents folkloric stories that do not have European origins. Partner with the school librarian to have students take stock of the folklore section of the school library. How many books have stories that have European origins such as stories from the tradition of Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales? How many books have stories that extend to other parts of the world including Africa and the Caribbean? If there is a gap between the number of books available with roots beyond European origins, invite students to brainstorm what you can do as a class to close that gap.
Tracey Baptiste’s Site
Colorín, Colorado Video with Tracey Baptiste on The Jumbies
“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” Performed by Michael Rosen
Repeated Interactive Read Alouds in Preschool and Kindergarten
Díaz, J. (2018). Islandborn. Dial Books.
Isadora, R. (2002). Caribbean dream. Puffin Books.
Gershator, P. & Gershator, D. (2015). Kalloloo! A Caribbean Tale. Little Bell Caribbean.
Lengle, M. (2015). Drum dream girl: How one girl’s courage changed music. HMH.
Lessac, F. (2007). Island counting 123. Candlewick Press.
Recio, S. (2020). If Dominican were a color. Denene Millner Books.
Rosen, M. (1997). We’re going on a bear hunt. Little Simon.
Shearer, W. (2021). African and Caribbean Folktales, Myths, and Legends. Scholastic.
About Katie Cunningham
Katie is a Professor of Literacy and English Education at Manhattanville College. There she is also the Director of the Advanced Certificate Program in Social and Emotional Learning and Whole Child Education. Her work focuses on children’s literature, joyful literacy methods, and literacy leadership. Katie is the author of Story: Still the Heart of Literacy Learning and co-author of Literacy Leadership in Changing Schools. Her book Start with Joy: Designing Literacy Learning for Student Happiness will be released September 2019. She is passionate about the power of stories to transform lives.
SLJ Blog Network