Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

Juneteenth marks the day that word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached enslaved black people in Texas, two years and six months after President Abraham Lincoln ordered it. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in the state and announced the terribly belated news that “all persons held as slaves” within areas of the Confederacy “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Texas declared Juneteenth a statewide holiday in 1980 and several other states have followed suit over time. In 2021, the work of activists like Opal Lee was rewarded when President Joe Biden designated it a federal holiday. 

To remember and celebrate the freedom the day commemorates, check out our list of inspiring and informative Juneteenth picture books to read with your children. Since many of the books were published prior to 2021, it’s important to share with your little ones that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday. Additionally, note that Juneteenth is one of many milestones on a long road to freedom for black people in America. The Emancipation Proclamation only applied to those enslaved in Confederate states, and many people remained in bondage after Juneteenth. The 13th amendment, which ended slavery in the nation, was not ratified until December 6, 1865—three years after Lincoln’s Proclamation and half a year after Juneteenth.

Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem

By Sojourner Kincaid Rolle, Illustrated by Alex Bostic

In the early 1990s, poet Sojourner Kincaid Rolle penned a beautiful poem celebrating the endurance, resilience, and fortitude of the black quest for freedom in America. She wrote the poem for a Juneteenth page in online magazine AfriGeneas. Solemn with a celebratory note at the end, her free-verse observance of the holiday became a regular part of local Juneteenth celebrations. It was also featured in film and gained attention around the world before being published as a children’s book in 2022. Alex Bostic’s illustrations harmonize with the text, from the first depiction of an enslaved man reading that war was over to the ending, which describes contemporary families joyously remembering their ancestors’ cries of “free at last.” There is incredible dignity, majesty, and heft in every page.


Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth

By Alice Faye Duncan, Illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo

This story is set at a Juneteenth Jamboree and makes Opal Lee, a real-life storyteller and historian, its lead character and narrator. In the book, Lee sits under the shade of a Texas tree and shares freedom stories with children, including her great-grandson, Buddy. In simple, declarative language, the author has Lee lay out the injustices of slavery and oppression. One evocative story reads in part: “Black men plowed the fields—but were not allowed to own the land. Black women cooked the food—but were not allowed to feast on roast and ribs from the master’s table… Earning and learning were against the law. Slavery was a THIEF.” In another story, narrator Lee tells the children about her own youth growing up in segregated Fort Worth, Texas, a community where black people were banned from Forest Park Zoo, except for one day of the year—Juneteenth. “I hated that zoo,” she said. “I loved it too.” And in another, she relates the day her family’s home was set on fire by white supremacists on June 19, 1939. The book is rich and layered, but succinct enough to capture young audiences’ attention and imagination. It also includes a bio of Lee, a list of sources, and a recipe for Juneteenth “Red Punch” Strawberry Lemonade, a new spin on a classic Juneteenth drink. A Juneteenth timeline at the back of the book spans from the first arrival of Africans in America in 1619 to the day U.S. legislators voted Juneteenth a national holiday.


All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom

By Angela Johnson, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis

In this beautifully illustrated book, Angela Johnson imagines the first Juneteenth through the eyes of a little girl. The girl’s family wakes up to another day of brutal labor in the cotton fields, but their work is interrupted by news of their emancipation, sparking poignant celebration. They fall asleep in a new world where they are free. The book features notes from both the author and illustrator, sharing powerful personal reflections on the day of emancipation and the creative process behind this book’s evocative depiction of it. A glossary and timeline of important dates surrounding Juneteenth make this a worthy addition to every child’s library.


Juneteenth Jamboree

By Carole Boston Weatherford, Illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan

Juneteenth Jamboree is a joyful, vibrant celebration. Cassandra and her family recently moved to Texas and she’s not so sure about her new home. One day soon after their move, she notices her family making special treats, like red velvet cake and fried chicken, and getting all dressed up—but it’s no one’s birthday and too early for the 4th of July. Her family will only tell her they’re preparing for a special Texas tradition. At the town’s parade, she celebrates Juneteenth for the first time and enjoys dancing, crafts, and food. By the end of the story, she learns about the meaningful history behind her new home’s celebration and leaves the night with new friends.


Juneteenth for Mazie

Written & illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Award-winning author and illustrator Floyd Cooper captures the importance of Juneteenth through a conversation between a father and his daughter, Mazie. Mazie is tired of being told she’s not old enough to do what she wants, so her father tenderly explains how her great-great-great-grandfather was even more limited—until he experienced freedom from enslavement on Juneteenth. The book gorgeously illustrates the moment of emancipation news, but is perhaps even more noteworthy for its depiction of enslaved people’s prior efforts to free themselves by running away, an act of self-emancipation that’s often overlooked in children’s literature. The book also goes beyond the holiday to celebrate and remember other historic moments in the black freedom struggle, including the civil rights movement and the election of Barack Obama. It places Mazie, and by extension, the reader within a lineage of emancipatory action and calls upon her and us all to carry the torch of Juneteenth.


Juneteenth: A Picture Book for Kids Celebrating Black Joy

By Van G. Garrett, Illustrated by Reginald C Adams & Samson Bimbo Adenugba

This emancipation-day story follows one family’s journey to Galveston, Texas for a day of Juneteenth festivities. The history of slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation, and rebellious states is left largely between the lines (and in the illustrations) of this take, which centers instead on the uniquely joyful food, fellowship, and even swagger of the holiday celebration. The lush illustrations evoke the color, textures, and flavors of the celebrations—from soulful music and electric dancing to the pomp and pageantry of floats, beauty queens, and performances—all within the context of a close-knit family’s day together. “This isn’t just a regular party,” the family’s son observes in a poignant moment. “Mom held me tight and smiled. She lovingly told me of MY history. Dad held her hand.”



By Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Drew Nelson, Illustrated by Mark Schroder

This story takes readers back to the first Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas in 1865. An informative book for young readers, the story also highlights the many emotions of the day as enslaved people hear the news of their freedom. To learn about the courageous stories of families escaping via the Underground Railroad, Almost to Freedom by the same author beautifully shares the story of a little girl and her mother’s escape from the perspective of the girl’s rag doll.


Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story

By Valerie Wesley, Illustrated by Sharon Wilson

Set in 1943, Freedom’s Gifts shares the story of two cousins celebrating Juneteenth together in Texas. June’s cousin, Lillie, travels from New York to spend the summer with her family and has never heard of the holiday. Alongside beautiful illustrations, the story powerfully explores the differences between the two cousins’ experiences in the North and the South. Lillie scoffs at her cousin’s Texan holiday—until she understands the true meaning of the day and the importance of celebrating freedom.



Juneteenth: A Children’s Story

By Opal Lee, Illustrated by Peter Viska

In 2016, Opal Lee marched from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C. to campaign for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. The 94-year-old celebrated the holiday as a child and was inspired to become an activist after her family home was set on fire by white supremacists. In Juneteenth: A Children’s Story, Lee introduces Juneteenth to young readers and explains the significance of the holiday. To learn more about her life, look out for Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth, a children’s book by celebrated author Alice Faye Duncan set to publish in 2022.


Papa’s Free Day Party

by Marilyn Nelson

While this book does not cover Juneteenth, Papa’s Free Day is a touching read about the importance of freedom, based on the author’s real family history. Set in 1924, the story begins with Johnnie asking her grandpa when his birthday is, and he doesn’t know the answer. Instead of celebrating his birthday, the family marks another important milestone: the day he achieved his freedom and his new life in the all-black town of Boley, Oklahoma.


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