If you want to learn more about Juneteenth, or just want to be sure its history and relevance has a place on your bookshelves, we have children’s books about Juneteenth to help.
After all, I know a lot of us (embarrassingly) don’t hear much about Juneteenth. It wasn’t in my school textbooks growing up, and my community doesn’t have a Juneteenth parade through our neighborhood. But Juneteenth Independence Day — also called Freedom Day — is a very important celebration of the June 19, 1865 announcement that ended slavery in the state of Texas, and more widely, all slavery throughout the Confederate states at that time.
All kids deserve to know more about it and to celebrate this important holiday too.
So, we’ve rounded up four great children’s books about Juneteenth, to help more kids — and even more adults — understand why this day is so significant.
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For early elementary aged kids (around, 5 to 9 years old), Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper is a perfect introduction the celebration of Juneteenth. Mazie, like most modern kids, hears “no” a lot and doesn’t like it. So her dad sits her down and tells her the story of her third-great grandfather Mose, who heard “no” even more as a slave. It explains the joy behind this day, presented with underlying themes of forgiveness and accomplishment too.
My kids love to pull out my old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, and I thought this clever interactive book, The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure by Steven Otfinoski, would be appealing to them in the same way. The book starts with a problem: the good news of the Emancipation Proclamation has reached the South, but some slave owners are refusing to follow the new law. What will you do? Kids get to navigate their own way through this story as they choose between making their way north, seeking their birth family, or resisting when you take work as an apprentice but are still treated as a slave.
Come Juneteenth, by Ann Rinaldi, is a terrific middle-grade book that has been out for around a decade but is still making plenty best-of lists. In it, Sis Goose was born into slavery, but when her mom dies, her owners adopt her and raise her alongside their own daughter. So why didn’t they tell her she was free when President Lincoln declared it — an entire two years earlier? This book explores the complicated relationships of a slave-owning family and the desperate desire for freedom that drives Sis Goose.
For a straight-up, non-fiction history of Juneteenth, I think The Story Behind Juneteenth is a great addition to your collection. Unfortunately, this book won’t come out until August, so you’ll have to pre-order. But I think the sacrifice and struggle of slaves isn’t something that should only be discussed one day a year each June.
If you’re having discussions with younger kids about the significance of freedom from slavery in America, considering introducing discussion with a children’s book like The Bell Rang by James E. Ransome, which Liz recommended earlier this year. It’s a beautiful and haunting picture book that depicts how difficult slavery was, not just in terms of individual abuses, but the pain and difficulty of trying to keep families together.
Also be sure to check out these 9 outstanding children’s books about Black History Month that broaden kids’ education about being Black in America through the centuries. The award-winning picture book, Henry’s Freedom Box: A True Story of the Underground Railroad, by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson, is a terrific place to start.