Honoring Juneteenth Through Children’s Books
Do you know what Juneteenth is? It is a day that celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. You might know that on January 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln shared the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared “that all persons held as slaves…are, and henceforth shall be free.” But did you know that at the time, there were still limitations and loopholes in this pronouncement? There were numerous parts of our country where enslaved people remained unaware of this dictate and its effect on their basic human rights. It wasn’t until the Civil War officially ended that many formerly Confederate controlled states were forced to acknowledge the declaration. With the end of the war, Union soldiers were, at long last, able to make the truth known. On June 19th, 1865- two and a half years after Lincoln’s decree- 250,000 enslaved people in Texas found out that they were finally free. The joy and hope of that event carries through to our modern day celebrations, and so, all over the United States on June 19th, people commemorate this momentous occasion.
Below is a list of books to get you started if you would like to learn more about Juneteenth, the history of slavery, and Black culture and pride.
Build a House by Rhiannon Giddens (2nd - 5th gr.)
Two years ago, on the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, Grammy Award winning musician Rhiannon Giddens wrote a song to commemorate the event and performed it with legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. The vivid lyrics of the song seemed destined for print right from the start, and thanks to lovely art by painter Monica Makai, Build a House is now a moving and emotional picture book.
Born on the Water (The 1619 Project) by Nikole Hannah-Jones (2nd - 5th gr.)
When a young black girl attempts to complete a family tree assignment for school, she struggles because she can only track her heritage back three generations. This leads to an opportunity for her grandmother to explain the effect that slavery had on their early ancestors who were taken from Africa against their will and brought to America. This learning opportunity for the main character and her family serves as well presented information for readers as well.
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson (1st - 4th gr.)
On June 19th, 1865, a family in Texas started their day enslaved and ended it with a joyous celebration, as they learned that they were free! This story, with its charming illustrations, ends with notes from the author and illustrator, a timeline of relevant events, and a glossary of important terms.
A Flag for Juneteenth by Kim Taylor (K - 4th gr.)
In Taylor’s book, we meet another Texas family on the day they discover that they are no longer enslaved. They celebrate their new status together by creating a community freedom flag. The pictures in this book are unique- Long Island artist Kim Taylor is a talented quilter who hand sewed all the illustrations in an eye-catching display of folk-style art that fits the story perfectly.
An American Story by Kwame Alexander (1st - 4th gr.)
Multi-award winning poet/author Kwame Alexander’s latest work is an important, emotional, and necessary picture book that tells the story of American slavery in a truthful but age appropriate manner. The power in the words and art is unbeatable.
The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States by Alliah L. Agostini (2nd - 5th gr.)
This book presents the timeline of how Juneteenth came to be. From 1865 when enslaved people finally learned that they were free, up to 2021 when President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a federal holiday, readers are educated about the importance of this celebration and the path this holiday has taken.
Summer Crafts Across Cultures: 12 Projects to Celebrate the Season by Megan Borgert-Spaniol (2nd - 5th gr.)
Celebrate summer with this eclectic array of themed crafts, which highlights Juneteenth, Pride Month, Fourth of July, International Day of Friendship, and others.
Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan (K - 3rd gr.)
BIOGRAPHY LEE D
Opal Lee grew up knowing the importance of Juneteenth and enjoyed celebrating it with her family every year- but she knew not everyone in her Texas hometown felt the same way. When she was twelve, that fact really hit home when an angry mob responded to Juneteenth celebrations by burning down her family’s brand new house. Even though she was just a child, she knew she had to speak out, and thus began a lifetime of activism- especially when it came to fighting for national recognition of Juneteenth.
Schomburg: The Man Who Built a Library by Carole Boston Weatherford (3rd - 6th gr.)
BIOGRAPHY SCHOMBURG W
Arturo Schomburg lived during the Harlem Renaissance, and made it his life’s mission to educate people about the massive and impressive contributions African Americans have made to American society throughout history. His passion and dedication ultimately led to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, an awe-inspiring collection that served as a model for scholars and archivists around the world. The Center, a part of the New York Public Library, is still an active and inspirational establishment today, and it’s right around the corner in Harlem. This month would be a great time to visit!
The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Hubbard (1st - 4th gr.)
BIOGRAPHY WALKER H
Mary Walker was born into slavery, but at age 15, she was freed. She lived a long and full life, including marriage, children, and numerous jobs. She experienced many personal struggles and triumphs, and saw many changes in the world around her. At age 116, one would think she had experienced all that life had to offer- but Mary had one more goal she wanted to achieve. She wanted to learn to read! Enjoy this tale about an inspiring woman whom more people should learn about!
Last Modified November 29, 2023