Follow This Blog: RSS feed
Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog
Inside Heavy Medal


JumbiesI’m still desperately plowing through other Newbery contenders before we reach ALA Midwinter and the Youth Media Awards announcement. I just finished THE JUMBIES by Tracey Baptiste…cannot remember who mentioned this to me but it was on my hold list.  While I don’t know this would make it into my top 10, I would have certainly suggested it if I was on the committee, and was surprised that no one has mentioned it here (unless I missed it?) or on the Goodreads Mock Newbery list.  It reminds me very much of DOLL BONES in its mood and appeal, and I think is easily as good.

Baptiste grew up in Trinidad, reading European folktales but listening to Caribbean stories of “Jumbies”: “the name for every bad-thinking, sneaky, trick-loving creature that comes out at night with the purpose of causing trouble” (Author’s Note). Here she writes the book she wished she’d had, growing up. Corinne La Mer is teased by two orphan boys from her village; they steal the pendant that her mother gave her before she died and tie it to the tail of an agouti.  Corinne chases the creature into the forest to retrieve it, but when she emerges, she is not alone.   What follows is a fairly standard story structure, predictable in a satisfying way and well executed.  What shines are the characters, setting, and the visual language.  Though these are not characters with dramatic arcs, they feel real, individual and true to the story, they are funny, and Baptiste makes you see much of their relationship through body language.  Visual language comes into play too in the many action and fight sequences, driving the narrative tension for the last dozens of pages as the island erupts into battle.  The pacing here shifts, as the narrative follows the friends as they are divided, sometimes alternating between very short chapter scenes, energizing and appealing.  While the Kirkus and PW reviews faulted the pacing, I felt the entire book moved at a quick and appropriate clip.

Elizabeth Bird wrote an appreciative review of this title back in the spring.   It didn’t pick up any stars… perhaps a reason it slipped under the radar?   Which makes me wonder…which title are you most surprised is not getting any buzz for Newbery?


Nina Lindsay About Nina Lindsay

Nina Lindsay is the Children's Services Coordinator at the Oakland Public Library, CA. She chaired the 2008 Newbery Committee, and served on the 2004 and 1998 committees. You can reach her at


  1. I haven’t read it myself, but what about Sy Mongomery’s Octopus Scientists? Quite a few starred reviews.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says

      It has three starred reviews and I’ll be covering it in a forthcoming nonfiction round up post. It’s interesting to note that she also published an adult book, THE SOUL OF AN OCTOPUS, that appears to be based on the same research she did for this book–and it was a National Book Award finalist in the Nonfiction category.

      I’ve also planned to take a look at some picture books in the near future, but I don’t think we’ll be able to tackle transitional readers like DORY AND THE REAL TRUE FRIEND, THE PRINCESS IN BLACK AND THE PERFECT PRINCESS PARTY, and THE STORY OF DIVA AND FLEA, for example. Would anyone care to make a pitch for these books–or their readership?

      The only novel left on my radar that I haven’t read yet is IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE by Joseph Marshall.

  2. I read Marshall’s IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE and will be using it with my 4th graders in a Native Voices literature unit this winter (along with Bruchac’s HEART OF A CHIEF and Erdrich’s CHICKADEE and GAME OF SILENCE). Much as I liked it, it wouldn’t trump any of my current top favorites for Newbery.

    • Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says

      Speaking of Louise Erdrich, does anyone know when her next Birchbark book will be out? I found CHICKADEE to be excellent in ways that surpassed the previous books in the series.

    • Really liked both Footsteps of Crazy Horse and Jumbies, and would definitely have both on my list.

      • Nina Lindsay Nina Lindsay says

        I’m also a fan of IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF CRAZY HORSE. It’s singular, accessible, and a must-read for everyone, I think, as it offers a much needed counterpoint to most of the widely available children’s literature about these struggles and battles. The plot and characters are serviceable, and I didn’t think the child appeal shone in those regards, though I hope to see more books in this vein.

  3. I’m disappointed not to see a discussion on Finding the Worm by Mark Goldblatt (Random House) and The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall (Knopf), two of my top choices this year.

  4. Judy, I commented on FINDING THE WORM here:

    I thought the notable thing about THE SEVENTH MOST IMPORTANT THING is its somewhat old-fashioned historical fiction conceit of observing a “real” person, in this case James Hampton, through the eyes of a fictional protagonist. Based on the little I read about Hampton after reading this book, I’m not sure about the book’s portrayal of him. It seemed a little too shiny which affected the book as a whole for me.

    Regarding THE JUMBIES, which I have not read, it would seem Sam Eddington of For Those About to Mock thinks it’s a top contender based on this comment:

    “no picture book is going to break through and take the prize, not in a year with Circus Mirandus and Echo and Moonpenny Island and The Jumbies.”

    Another candidate for overlooked?: FEARSOME CREATURES OF THE LUMBERWOODS by Hal Johnson. I think it must pass the “original work” criterion. I think it’s clearly great, though mileage may vary, and it might be too much of a good thing.

Speak Your Mind