By Courtney Runn
Juneteenth marks the day in 1865 that word of the Emancipation Proclamation finally reached enslaved Texans, two years and six months after President Abraham Lincoln issued it. On June 19, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in the state and announced the news, making Texas one of the last states to legally abolish slavery. In 1980, Texas declared Juneteenth a statewide holiday and, thanks to the work of activists like Opal Lee, it became a federal holiday this year.
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.
In this beautifully illustrated book, Angela Johnson imagines the first Juneteenth through the eyes of a little girl. Her 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 includes notes from the author and illustrator with personal reflections on Juneteenth and a glossary and timeline of important dates leading up to it.
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.
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. With gorgeous illustrations, this book goes beyond the holiday to celebrate and remember the past two centuries of black history and calls on young readers to do their part in carrying on the torch of Juneteenth.
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.
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.
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.
Every year, Sophie’s family commemorates Juneteenth at their family reunion at Emancipation Park. In this brightly illustrated story, Sophie and her cousin Lelah learn about the importance of Juneteenth and celebrating family.
This informative, non-fiction book shares the history of Juneteenth and how it’s celebrated today throughout the country. In the years following the first Juneteenth, people celebrated their freedom with items they couldn’t have in slavery, like new clothes and strawberry soda—a tradition that has endured. Parades and joyful music have also remained hallmark features of annual celebrations. With bright pictures and illustrations, this book walks through the history of the holiday plus the meaning behind the food, music, and activities associated with the day.
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.
Do you know a great book to read on Juneteenth? Let us know in the comments!