You weren’t born knowing everything.
People had to tell you what you needed to know, and that’s how you learn. Sometimes you can guess or figure out other things on your own, but most of the time you were told and then you know. So why not read these books about a fact unknown for years…
When Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation and freed the slaves, word spread everywhere…except Texas. For more than two years after the signing, there were still people in bondage there. In Alice Faye Duncan’s “Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free,” art by Keturah A. Bobo (Tommy Nelson, $17.99), you’ll see what happened when these slaves learned on the 19th June 1865, that they were finally free .
In this book, kids will learn about Juneteenth, the woman whose activism ensured it would be celebrated nationwide, and why it mattered. Aimed at ages 4-8, this book also contains additional information for adults to help a child understand its meaning, as well as a traditional June 19 red punch recipe.
For first graders, “Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem” by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, illustrated by Alex Bostic (Union Square Kids, $17.99) begins the day “The News Hit Galveston.” Here, however, only part of the story is told: the children don’t have 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 former slaves might have felt upon hearing the news, and how the newly freed black citizens of Texas probably would have celebrated their freedom. Like Duncan’s story, this book has a nice author’s note for parenting advice and beautiful illustrations that perfectly evoke the poem as it is told.
Older children—those far beyond picture books—will find a wealth of information in “What Is Juneteenth?” by Kirsti Jewel, illustrated by Manuel Gutierrez (Penguin Kids, $5.99).
Unlike the books above, this one begins with a quick and basic history lesson that begins with the Middle Passage. Jewel then quickly takes the kids through a few pages about Abraham Lincoln and slavery just before and during the Civil War. Only then does she explain where the former slaves went after they were freed, what they did to find their families, and what it must have been like for the Texas slaves to surrender. realized that their freedom had been denied to them for more than two years.
Jewel moves forward to further explain black history 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 over-generalization, makes this book perfect for ages 7-14.
And if these books on Juneteenth aren’t enough, ask your librarian or bookseller for more. They will help you find everything.