Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2017
Format: Picture Book
Interest Level: K-3
Review by Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
In an interview with Laura Lambert for readbrightly.com, Gaia Cornwall discusses the difficulty of finding the balance between acknowledging a child’s fear of doing something for the first time and pushing them to try despite their fears. Her picture book, Jabari Jumps is a nuanced study of how a father and son successfully navigate this difficult situation.
It begins as many childhood first encounters begin—with a mixture of excitement and bravado. Jabari announces to his father that today, he will be jumping off the diving board. “I’m a great jumper, said Jabari, “so I’m not scared at all.”
As he and his father watch other children jumping from the diving board, Jabari declares “It’s easy.” However when his father intuits Jabari’s underlying fear he squeezes his son’s hand, and Jabari squeezes back. More of that fear appears as Jabari allows other children to go before him in line so he can think about what kind of special jump to do and then he becomes tired and then he decides to rest before jumping and then to do the stretches he forgot to do.
When Jabari thinks tomorrow might be a better day, his father acknowledges his fear, but also the part of him that is really excited about jumping off the diving board: “It’s okay to feel a little scared…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. “
Some adults may not agree with this suggestion for coping, but for children, a parent’s presence and willingness to offer strategies is sometimes all that a child needs to bring excitement and a feeling of confidence into the foreground and to push fear into the background.
The illustrations help young readers enter into Jabari’s experience: They see Jabari looking up the very, very tall ladder attached to the diving board. They see Jabari on his father’s shoulders and the diving board so very, very far above him even from that height, and they watch him climbing “up and up and up and up.” He seems so small and all of these elements help readers experience his fear. But the author/illustrator also enables children to experience Jabari’s joy when he jumps with outstretched arms and a big smile followed by a celebration of his bravery with his father:
“Jabari! You did it!” said his dad.
“I did it!” said Jabari. “I’m a great jumper!”
And you know what?”
“What?” said his dad.
“Surprise double backflip is next!”
Social Emotional Learning: Coping with Mixed Emotions, Ambivalence
A child’s ability to successfully navigate situations that create mixed emotions and ambivalence is dependent on the support and guidance of adults. David Shaffer in his book Social and Personality Development indicates that it isn't until children are between six and ten years of age that they can acknowledge simultaneously occurring positive and negative emotions. This does not mean that younger children have no grasp of mixed emotions at all. They do, but it is rudimentary evolving over many years. Consequently, Jabari Jumps is a good book to read and discuss with children. Such discussions will provide information and perspectives unavailable to young children that will support them in growing toward a deeper understanding of recognizing and resolving situations that create ambivalence.