Hi Mixed-Up Files Readers,
I’m thrilled to introduce our next author guest and share her brand new book with you! Some of you will remember her from The Jumbies, the first book in her creepy middle grade series. Let’s hear a warm welcome for Tracey Baptiste!
Hi Sheri! Thanks so much for doing a feature on the series.
It’s my pleasure. So excited to chat! Let me ground the readers by starting with an element of the first book – without giving anything away. In the first book of this series, The Jumbies, your main character Corinne is a confident girl for the most part; she’s afraid of nothing. But then she must learn how to call upon that confidence in the form of courage to save her island home. You’ve continued Corinne’s story in Rise of the Jumbies with her discovering she’s suspect to the story’s main plot line. That had to be hard for her, especially after she’d found and used her courage in book I.
Did she go through self-doubt and questioning? How else did she react to this? What will young readers gain by exploring this with Corinne?
There are always going to be moments when a person does all the right things, and people still aren’t on their side. This is Corinne’s experience at the beginning of the book, and it hurts her. It also propels her to go to extraordinary lengths to save the children of the island. I’m not sure she would have risked herself in this way otherwise since she had already done so much.
Such an important lesson for kids to learn alongside Corinne.
I absolutely love the culture and diversity of this book! The story world is rich and intriguing. I’m always intrigued when authors talk about stories they recall from childhood. How closely did you follow those stories you were told as a child and how did you weave in your imagination to create such a unique tale?
At their core, the jumbies have the same traits as the ones in stories I listened to as a child, but I did let my imagination run wild. For one thing, the jumbies are all somewhat unified, and in the stories I heard, it was always one jumbie on the prowl, or maybe a few douens together, but they never worked together the way I have them in this series. And Severine was entirely my invention—a jumbie who unified those on land. I needed her to focus Corinne’s anger/sadness/loss, but also to make it a bigger story because all the jumbies under Severine make for a more dire situation for the island.
What’s the most important message or lesson readers will find in this book?
That individual groups have more in common than they realize. That squeezing any group to the fringe is cruel, and a recipe for disaster.
How would you describe Rise of the Jumbies in either five descriptive words or 140 characters?
Exciting, magical, gorgeous, brutal, frightening.
These really are perfect.
A fun question: if Corinne could be any character from any fairytale, who would it be and why?
Corinne falls firmly in the Cinderella trope. The dead mother, the evil stepmother (in this case wannabe stepmother), the magical trees (one of which is near the mother’s grave), the need to overcome the stepmother in order to get to a “happy” ending. This was all deliberate. I love Cinderella stories, so when I read the Haitian folktale “The Magic Orange Tree,” I recognized the same story bones as Cinderella, and that was the inspiration for the first Jumbies book.
How did you find writing a sequel different from writing the first book and what advice could you share with our writer friends about how to approach writing a ‘book 2’?
I had ideas for a book 2 when we sold the first Jumbies, but it wasn’t bought as a multi-book deal, so I dropped those ideas in favor of making book 1 stand alone. Then book 2 became a possibility so keeping the consistency was very difficult. I struggled a lot. I knew I needed to up the ante on the danger Corinne and her friends were in, but that I also needed to deepen the emotional story. The mermaids were always in my thoughts for a book 2, so I was thrilled to bring them in, and I had a very specific agenda for them—they would tell the most harrowing emotional story in the book, that of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Their story was the most crucial and difficult for me, and moving some of the focus away from Corinne helped to drive the second book. This was a deliberate strategy to keep things fresh and unexpected in the sequel.
Oh wow, this is such a powerful part of the story. So glad you were able to bring it to readers in book II.
What do you see as the most challenging aspect of growing up ‘middle grade’ in today’s world of books? How can authors make a difference in these middle schoolers lives?
Middle grade readers are watching a world where hate is once again bubbling to the surface, and that’s all in the spotlight because of social media, which they all have access to. Books that accurately represent different cultures and different stories are crucial now so that there isn’t an ingrained sense of “otherness” about people who don’t look the same, or who live differently. I am a strong advocate for Own Voices stories because who better to tell stories than the people who live them? Unfortunately, there are still more books published about [insert non-white culture/ethnicity here] than written by people within those groups.
Care to share what your readers can expect from you next? We’d love to hear!
I’m working on two books of historical nonfiction. One is about the civil rights movement, and the other I’m still researching, so I can’t say much about it yet.
Ooh, secretive … we like that! Best of luck with both projects. We’ll anxiously await their releases. And thank you for sharing yourself and your work with the Mixed-Up Files.