Welcome! Thank you for taking interest in my children’s book reviews. A little about me: I teach after school reading programs for refugees in Kent, Washington. A highlight of my job is seeking out books that I think will inspire my students. Some of them turn out to be hits, some of them misses, and all of them teach me something about what I am looking for in a great children’s book. I look for books that honor the child’s perspective and books that feature diverse and underrepresented characters. Because I work with refugees, I am always on the look out for books that deal with migration and life as an immigrant/refugee.
The first book I want to highlight here is Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall. Jabari Jumps was just published in 2017, and I got it from First Book, an organization that connects children in need with inexpensive and free books.
What first drew me to this book was Jabari himself, a small black boy in orange swimming trucks staring nervously down from a diving board. I was on the look out for every day stories abut black children that avoided, as Scott Woods puts it, “The typical fare of Black children’s books: boycotts, buses and basketball.” I had a feeling this little boy at the swimming pool might fit the bill perfectly.
Jabari is a little boy who has just finished his swimming lesson when he declares that he is going to jump off of the diving board. The diving board is “a little scary” but Jabari is wriggling with anticipation for his big jump. “I’m a great jumper,” Jabari declares. Even so, the majority of the story follows Jabari as he puts off actually jumping off the diving board. He doesn’t admit that he is scared, but Cornwall leaves enough clues so that readers of all ages will pick up that Jabari is. Throughout Jabari’s ordeal, his dad is always right there, watching and encouraging him. In the end, it is the dad that gives Jabari the frame shift he needs to jump off the board. From the book:
“It’s okay to feel a little scared,” said his dad. “Sometimes if I feel a little scared, I take a deep breath and tell myself I am ready. And you know what? Sometimes it stops feeling scary and feels a little like a surprise”
And, of course, the book ends in a page-filling “Splash!” as Jabari confronts his fear and leaps from the board. One of my students asked to re-read that page so everyone could shout out “Splash!” at the same time.
This book became a favorite for me because of how Gaia Cornwall trusts young readers to figure out Jabari’s emotions when it seems like Jabari himself isn’t ready to admit them. This created space for students to participate in the story themselves, throwing out theories as to why Jabari would let the other kid go ahead of him in line, or why he is taking so long deciding what kind of special jump he is going to do.
The book also created an ideal venue to let the kids talk about what they are scared of, and what fears they have overcome. After we had discussed fears as a group, I gave all of my students markers and paper to draw or write about a time that they overcame a fear or challenge. One student wrote about a big test they took, another wrote about a tall tree they climbed. “Jabari Jumps” added to the conversation by normalizing, even celebrating fear. Of course, there were still some kids who declared they weren’t scared of anything, but they were few and far between.
I would be amiss to wrap up my review without mentioning the amount of detail Gaia Cornwall puts into her illustrations. Each picture tells a mini story of its own. Pool scenes always show amusing parent-child interactions in the background of whatever Jabari and his Dad are doing. A three panel picture series about Jabari putting off going up the ladder also showcases a little boy finding a ladybug, showing it off to the other kids in line, and ultimately leaving it on the ladder. Another fun touch is Cornwall’s use of newsprint to represent shadows, dirt and far away buildings.
Overall, I would highly recommend Jabari Jumps. It is a great book to read aloud, and has also proven itself as a favorite for students to read to themselves during independent reading time. It is engaging, encourages interaction, and opens up the possibility of talking about challenges and fears.