You weren’t born knowing everything.
People had to tell you what you needed to know, and that’s how you learn. You can guess sometimes, or figure other things out on your own but mostly, you’ve been told and then you know. So why not read these books about a fact that was unknown for years…
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves, the word was spread far and wide… except in Texas. For more than two years after the signing, there were still people in bondage there. In “Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free” by Alice Faye Duncan, art by Keturah A. Bobo (Tommy Nelson, $17.99), you’ll see what happened when those slaves learned, on Juneteenth 1865, that they were finally free.
In this book, kids will learn about Juneteenth, the woman whose activism ensured that it would be celebrated across the nation, and why that was important. Meant for kids ages 4 to 8, this book also has further information for grown-ups to help a child understand its meanings, along with a recipe for traditional Juneteenth red punch.
For early elementary-aged kids, “Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem” by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, illustrated by Alex Bostic (Union Square Kids, $17.99) begins on the day when “The news arrived in Galveston.” Here, however, only part of the story is told: kids don’t much backstory; the Emancipation Proclamation is never mentioned. Instead, the story is very simplified, bypassing Emancipation in favor of more personal stories, a wide variety of reactions that former slaves might have felt upon hearing the news, and how Texas’ newly-freed Black citizens likely would have celebrated their freedom. Like the Duncan story, this book has a nice author’s note for parental guidance, and gorgeous illustrations that perfectly evoke the poem as it’s told.
Older children – those who are well beyond picture books – will find a wealth of information inside “What Is Juneteenth? by Kirsti Jewel, illustrated by Manuel Gutierrez (Penguin Kids, $5.99).
Unlike the above books, this one begins with a quick and basic history lesson that starts with the Middle Passage. Jewel then quickly takes kids through a few pages about Abraham Lincoln and slavery just before and during the Civil War. It’s not until then that she explains where former-slaves went once they were freed, what they did to be reunited with their families, and what it must’ve been like for Texas slaves to realize that freedom had been withheld from them for more than two years.
Jewel goes forward to explain more of Black history up through modern times, including the story of Opal Lee and her efforts to place Juneteenth firmly in the nation’s consciousness. Kids also get brief biographies of notable Black Americans along the way, and there’s a handy timeline for reference. This, and the lack of overgeneralizing, make this books perfect for kids ages 7-to-14.
And if these books on Juneteenth aren’t enough, then ask your librarian or bookseller for more. They’ll help you find everything.