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Bringing Caribbean folklore to young readers

Kristy Drutman
Kristy Drutman

Born in Trinidad, Tracey Baptiste grew up listening to stories about “jumbies”: evil mythological spirits traditionally found in Caribbean folklore. 

Tracey realized her children, like many others growing up in the United States, did not have the opportunity to see themselves or their culture described in the stories they read, which predominantly featured white faces and narratives. Wanting to change this, Tracey wrote The Jumbies, a series of books reflecting stories from her heritage.

Through The Jumbies, Tracey wanted to expand the Black community’s access to Caribbean mythology and raise awareness of the fight to preserve Black Indigenous culture. The books explore timely and important themes around combating prejudice and exceptionalism while cultivating interconnectedness, self-reflection, and unity.

A richly adorned seafloor in The Bahamas, a country in the Caribbean island region. Tracey grew up listening to stories anchored in Caribbean folklore · Cristina Mittermeier

The first installment follows the series’ fearless heroine, 11-year-old Corinne La Mer, as she fights to save her island home from wicked spirits. For her second book, Rise of the Jumbies, Tracey set the story deep in the ocean.

“The ocean is ever-changing and yet predictably cyclical,” she says. “It represents adventure and familiarity, hope and incredible danger. If that isn't a description of human nature, I don't know what is.”

In Rise of the Jumbies, Corinne discovers that local children are being mysteriously snatched from the shore and taken out to sea. Prejudice drives the community to blame Corinne, who is half jumbie, for their disappearance. In response, she and her friends journey into the ocean depths to find them, where they encounter Mama D’Leau, a dangerous jumbie who rules the ocean. In exchange for their friends’ freedom, Mama D’Leau demands a gift, which the characters search for with mermaids across the shores of West Africa. The allure and mysticism of the ocean provides an opportunity to learn about history along the way.

For the second book in her series, “Rise of the Jumbies,” Tracey set the story deep in the ocean
For Tracey, the wide range of Black stories—which are all too often left out of the picture—are incredibly important when talking about the ocean:

“We needed to understand how [the ocean] worked—its cycles, its bounty, and its danger—in order to survive. Moving from the African continent to the Americas, that sensibility moved with us. Especially in the Caribbean, where water culture is even more important, Black stories that center water and ocean exploration are natural.”

One difficult yet crucial theme that Tracey references brilliantly through her writing is the transatlantic slave trade. When the characters find an underwater shipwreck during their adventure, the mermaids recall their painful history as slaves, but also how they transformed into beautiful mermaids afterwards. Using her mythological creatures as tools to teach the reader, Tracey explores the history of slavery in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to younger audiences.

“I couldn't really talk about Black people living on a Caribbean island without addressing how they had gotten there, and it seemed an obvious choice to lay this at the feet (or fins) of the mermaids,” she explains. “They were the perfect vessel for sharing that very painful history, because they could carry it beautifully.” 
Exploring a shipwreck on the bottom of the Caribbean Sea · Cristina Mittermeier
The characters in Tracey’s book “Rise of the Jumbies” find an underwater shipwreck, where the mermaids with whom they are traveling recall their painful history as slaves · Cristina Mittermeier
Tracey uses her mythological creatures as tools to explore the history of slavery in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to younger audiences · Cristina Mittermeier

Tracey’s powerful writing is an authentic and jubilant reclamation, an antidote to cultural erasure, and a direct reminder that art is medicine—a way to interpret and reimagine very dark and tragic periods of time.

Learn more about Tracey

Children’s Author Website · Facebook · Instagram · Twitter


Kristy Drutman

Founder of Brown Girl Green

Kristy Drutman is a Filipina environmental media creator and the founder of Brown Girl Green, a media platform exploring the intersections between media, diversity, and environmentalism. As a sustainability communications expert, Kristy has spoken in front of thousands and facilitated workshops centered on environmental media and storytelling in cities across the United States. She has also worked with youth from around the world to create collaborative, intersectional online media with the goal of creating conscious, culturally relevant content to engage audiences about proactive solutions to the climate crisis.

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