Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall – Book Review

Gaia Cornwall’s charming picture book, Jabari Jumps, tells the story of a young boy on a trip to the pool. But, like all the best picture books, it’s the story behind the words that really moves you.

Beautifully illustrated, and full of gentle warmth and wit, Jabari Jumps is so good, it made the list of our 23 favourite picture books staring BAME boys. Read on to take a peak inside and find out why we love it.

Children's picture book Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall
Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

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Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

One of those books with a deceptively simple storyline, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall focuses on an ordinary moment in childhood, and turns it into an adventure.

In this story, Jabari goes to the lido with his dad and little sister. Newly graduated from swimming classes, Jabari is full of confidence. He knows that today will be the day he climbs the diving board and jumps into the pool for the very first time.

But that climb to the top is harder than he thought. It takes time, some charming comic moments, and some gentle support and encouragement from his father before he is ready to take the plunge.

Page from Jabari Jumps. Jabari and his dad look up at the diving board.
Stretching before exercise is very important, but Jabari’s avoidance tactics are clear!

There is so much to love about this book. Beautifully written and illustrated, both the story and the images evocatively capture Jabari’s emotional journey from excitement, through trepidation and doubt, to his final excitement and pride at in making a big splash.

Perfect little moments

And it’s the little details that make this book so special. For example, I love the moment when Jabari arrives at the lido and watches the other kids jumping off the diving board.

‘”Looks easy” Jabari said. But when his dad squeezed his hand, Jabari squeezed back.’

Page from book 'Jabari Jumps': Jabari and his dad and sister arrive at the swimming pool.
Everything Jabari (and his dad) are feeling at this moment is captured in the little details of the way they are standing. We almost don’t need the words!

The illustration shows Jabari from behind, clutching his towel and with his goggles pushed up on his head as he holds his dad’s hand tightly. We are watching Jabari watch the other children and we know exactly how he’s feeling.

My other favourite moment is when Jabari has finally made it to the top of the diving board, and is (almost) ready to jump. There is a beautiful birds-eye view of the pool, where Jabari’s dad and sister wait. All we see of Jabari are his toes, ‘curled around the rough edge’ of the diving board.

Those curled toes tell us everything about him in that moment.

Page from Jabari Jumps. Birds eye view of the swimming pool, looking down past Jabari's toes curled around the edge of the diving board.
How high?! I don’t blame Jabari for being nervous about jumping from here…

Life lessons (and great parenting!)

What Jabari Jumps is celebrating is the triumph of quiet perseverance; of letting children take their time to conquer new skills and find confidence in themselves and their abilities at their own pace.

Standing on top of the diving board with his toes curling around the edge, Jabari is so brave it makes my heart ache. But his father has given him such gentle, loving support to get to this point – never pushing him and letting decide for himself how far he wants to go – that he knows, and we know, he is ready.

And when he jumps, the joy of that big splash and his even bigger grin is amazing.

The positive representation of the father as a loving, gentle and kind figure, actively involved in caring for his children is also important. It is still unfortunately rare to see a father rather than a mother at the centre of a domestic moment in books for children, and these are examples that children really need to see if traditional gender stereotypes are to be successfully challenged.

My kids love Jabari Jumps. And it’s a great example of a book representing true diversity. The main character’s black identity is clear – he is not simply a white character painted darker. It is also great to see a BAME boy take centre stage in a children’s picture book that isn’t about the issue of ethnic identity. This is a universally understood childhood moment. Any child could be Jabari and so any child can relate to his story. Not to mention their mums…

Page from Jabari Jumps. SPLASH! Jabari hits the water with a smile.
After the controlled and neat illustrations up to this point, Jabari’s splash fills the pages with exuberant, wild colour!

By the same author

Gaia Cornwall is an American author/illustrator, and amazingly Jabari Jumps is her debut book, published in 2017. Gaia has a fabulous website that’s worth checking out, not least for the free Jabari printable activities.

Jabari Tries

The follow up to Jabari Jumps, Jabari Tries is just as charming. Jabari is in inventor mode in this one, and we get to see a little more of his younger sister as his assistant, and their father as their ever-present encourager and supporter.

Another in another ode to persistence and resilience, Jabari has to deal with failures, frustration and setbacks in his quest to build a flying machine.

We love inventor books like Rosie Revere, Engineer and Izzy Gizmo, and Jabari Tries is a great addition to this growing sub-genre!

Picture Books with Diverse Characters

Have you seen my full list of the best 23 picture books with diverse characters? Just like Jabari Jumps, all of these picture books feature black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) boys as main characters. Something that’s as rare as proverbial hen’s teeth in children’s books, and an issue I’ve written about here.

A stack of picture books that all feature a black, Asian or minority ethnic boy as the main character.
Our favourite picture books featuring BAME boy main characters.

Check out the list to find out more about our favourites, and take a peek inside. If you like the look of Jabari Jumps, I’m sure you’ll find some others to love there too!

Have You Seen Elephant by David Barrow
Have You Seen Elephant by David Barrow.
Children's picture book 'Ravi's Roar' by Tom Percival
Ravi’s Roar by Tom Percival
A pile of children's picture books featuring ethnically diverse boy main characters.

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