If you want to learn more about Juneteenth as we approach its anniversary, or just want to be sure its history and relevance has a place on your bookshelves, we have found some terrific children’s books about Juneteenth to help.
After all, I know a lot of us (embarrassingly) still don’t hear much about Juneteenth especially since it was only made a federal holiday in 2021. 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 or Emancipation Day — marks the very important celebration of the June 19, 1865 announcement that freed the last enslaved people in the state of Texas, nearly 30 months after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s an amazing story.
All of us should know more about it, so that we can all celebrate this important holiday with the respect and reverance it deserves. After all, Black American history is American history.
So, we’ve rounded up six great children’s books about Juneteenth, to help more kids — and even more adults — understand why this day is so significant. And be sure to check out our 2020 post sharing 3 excellent educational videos about Juneteenth for kids. –Kate and Christina
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This post has been updated for 2022.
For early elementary aged kids, 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 an enslaved person. It explains the joy behind this day, presented with underlying themes of forgiveness and accomplishment too. (ages 6-9)
Powerful and strong, the newly released Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem provides kids–and adults– with a better understanding of what it meant to be free for so many people at that moment in 1865. Sojourner Kincaid Rolle’s solemn verse makes it clear that freedom did not mean the end of hard times for people who had been enslaved for so long. But Alex Bostic’s illustrations showcase a steady and unwavering movement toward something better, a sentiment that carries through to today. (ages 4-8)
Featured in our roundup of 11 outstanding children’s books about Black History Month, Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth was just released earlier this year. Written by Alice Faye Duncan and illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo, this inspiring book follows the true story of Opal Lee’s childhood in her turbulent Texas town, through her fight to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized, federal holiday. Kids will also be fascinated to know that Opal Lee remains a living legend in Black American history, at 95 years old today! (ages 4-8)
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 up north, seeking out their birth family, or resisting when you take work as an apprentice but are still treated as a slave. (ages 8-11)
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 is 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 — two years earlier? This book explores the complicated relationships of a slave-owning family and the desperate desire for freedom that drives Sis Goose. (ages 12+)
For a straight-up, non-fiction history of Juneteenth, I think The Story Behind Juneteenth is a great addition to your collection. Especially because the sacrifice and struggle of enslaved people — and the resulting struggles of their families generations later — isn’t something that should only be discussed only one day a year each June. (ages 7-10)
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 highly recommended earlier this year. It’s a beautiful and haunting picture book that depicts the horrors of slavery not just in terms of individual abuses, but the pain and difficulty of trying to keep families together and what that looks like to a young child. (ages 4-8)
Also be sure to check out these 11 outstanding children’s books about Black History Month that broaden kids’ education about being Black in America through the centuries. And for content more specifically about Juneteenth, be sure to watch these 3 short videos about Juneteenth that are perfect for kids of all ages.