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 Juba This, Juba That

Helaine Becker, illustrated by Ron Lightburn,
Juba This, Juba That
Tundra Books, 2012.

Adapting a traditional “juba” rhyme, and certainly maintaining the toe-tapping snappiness for which juba is renowned, poet Helaine Becker and illustrator Ron Lightburn have created a dynamic, joyous picture book that will have young readers up on their feet dancing along in time to the words.  While the poem creates a narrative of Juba having a fun time at a fairground, the illustrations contextualise the sequence within the suggestion of a dream; so despite its lively energy, the book would also work well as a bed time story.

Juba is presented as a young boy who, “Juba this, Juba that,” meets a new friend, a yellow cat.  Together they run, “Juba here, Juba there,” all the way to the fair and enjoy all the attractions a young person could possibly wish for: a hall of mirrors, a scary train ride, games and candy…  The illustrations effervesce with energy and clearly invite young children to participate in the dance by alternating between the night-time adventures of the dream and images of Juba and the cat jumping and jiving to the rhythm of the chant.

Juba This, Juba That is a fun way to introduce children to an area of African-American heritage, and as the book suggests, it may not be long before they are adding some verses of their own.  Just don’t expect children to sit still when you read it to them!

Marjorie Coughlan
February 2013

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