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As readers, we are always curious about the inspiration behind the stories we love—not just the big ideas, but the details, too. This curiosity is what prompted us to ask about the people, places, and things that authors borrowed from real life to build their fictional worlds and deepen their characters’ journeys.
The Jumbies series follows Corinne La Mer, a fearless Haitian girl who has been raised on stories about jumbies, mysterious creatures that inhabit the forest. Corinne is convinced jumbies aren’t real, until the appearance of a strange, beautiful woman in her village sparks a series of adventures that changes everything Corinne knows of her home, her family . . . and herself. It’s a powerful trilogy that explores land, sea, and sky through the eyes of a courageous young heroine. The author, Tracey Baptiste, was raised in Trinidad and grew up on jumbie stories—we asked Tracey to share how a specific person, place, and thing inspired Corinne’s journey. (And the book covers, by artist Vivienne To, are so gorgeous that we just had to use them to highlight each category. Scroll all the way down to see the full images!)
Before I even started thinking about writing The Jumbies, before it was a series, before it even had that title, what I wanted was to tell my children the stories that I had grown up with as a child. Those gleefully-told tales of scary creatures that came out in the night to do wicked, wicked things were a staple of my upbringing. I loved the thrill of those stories and I wanted my children to feel the same thrill. Fortunately they both loved the idea of creepy Caribbean spirits. So it’s no surprise that I thought of my children when I envisioned the main character of all three jumbies books: The Jumbies, Rise of the Jumbies, and The Jumbie God’s Revenge. Corinne is a blend of both of my children: my ever-cautious, think-things-out daughter, and my adventure-loving, leap-before-he-looks son. As this photo shows, there’s quite a distinct difference between my children, so putting them into the body of one character was a lot of fun.
The jumbies series is set in the Caribbean. Of course I’m thinking of my own island, Trinidad—where I was born and grew up—as I write the stories. There are a few markers that are specific to Trinidad—like the witch’s swamp in book one, which was modeled after the Caroni Swamp, including the tree full of scarlet ibises which shows up in book two, and the Pitch Lake that appears in book three. But jumbies exist across all Caribbean islands, as well as Central and South America, and I wanted the island to feel like it could belong to any one of those places. In 2017 when hurricane Maria was devastating many Caribbean islands, I thought about the Carib god Huracan, and brought him in for the third book. People of the Caribbean understand the devastation of hurricanes all too well.
When he was little, my son liked collecting rocks. There were rocks in his pockets all the time. There was a row of rocks on one of the windowsills in the house. His collection. For him, these were important. Each of them meant something. The touchstone (literally) for Corinne throughout all of the jumbies books is the necklace that her Mama gave to her. A rock on a string that falls close to her heart. And in each of the books that stone has an important role to play.
Tracey Baptiste (pronounced buhTEEST) is the New York Times bestselling author of MINECRAFT: THE CRASH. She is also the author of the popular JUMBIES series including THE JUMBIES, RISE OF THE JUMBIES, and THE JUMBIE GOD’S REVENGE. She has written several other fiction and nonfiction books for children. Find Tracey online at www.traceybaptiste.com and connect on Twitter @traceybaptiste and on Instagram @traceybaptistewrites.