All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom

illus. by E. B. Lewis. 40p. chron. glossary. notes. websites. S. & S. May 2014. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780689873768; ebk. ISBN 9781481406475. LC 2011038273.
RedReviewStarGr 3 Up—Previous picture books about Juneteenth (the holiday celebrating the day slaves were freed in Texas—two years after the rest of the country) have focused on contemporary children discovering this quirk of history. Valerie Wesley's Freedom's Gifts (S. & S., 1997) and Carole Boston Weatherford's Juneteenth Jamboree (Lee & Low, 1995) fall into that category. Johnson imagines what it would be like to be a slave one minute and a free person the next. Spare text, structured as free verse, hones in on the smell of honeysuckle and breakfast routines as the day begins, like any other. The titular phrase appears three times: first to build suspense, then to indicate the earthshaking import of the message spreading from the port, and, finally, to reflect on the consequences. Lewis paints details not mentioned. The protagonist is a girl living in the slave quarters with her siblings and mother. They are working in the cotton fields when the news arrives. Skillful watercolor renderings depict nuanced changes in lighting and focus, thereby capturing individual responses to a community's new reality—from incredulity and quiet contemplation to rapture. Occasional panels indicate passing time; the brilliant clarity of the fields at noon fades to a green-blue gauze over the revelers heading home from a late-night celebration. A time line, glossary, overview, list of websites, and notes by author and illustrator provide deeper understanding. With a narrative notable for its understated simplicity and lack of judgment, this title allows readers to draw their own conclusions. An affecting entrée to a challenging conversation.—Wendy Lukehart, District of Columbia Public Library
In exquisite, lyrical text, Johnson reimagines Juneteenth--the date slaves in Texas finally learned of their emancipation--from the perspective of one fictional family. The words build to a crescendo of emotions as these now-free people prepare for a new life. Lewis's soft watercolors mirror the emotion of the text--the sun reflects off the grateful faces, eyes face the future with clarity.
Captures the joy, disbelief, and hope of a people who go to bed slaves and wake to find themselves free. Angela Johnson divides the text into lyrical, unrhymed fragments that are well suited to being read aloud: “And nobody knew, / as we / ate a little, / talked a little, / and headed to the fields / as the sun was rising, / that soon, / it would all be different.” The atmospheric watercolor illustrations, rendered with great attention to both historical accuracy and the shifting light of day, place the reader firmly among the cotton fields and balmy beaches of the rural Southwest. In the illustrator’s note, E. B. Lewis explains how he took and used reference photos of volunteers in period dress to inform his re-creation of the post-war era. Provides an intimate look at a little-known, yet pivotal marker in both Civil War and African American history. Back matter details the roots of Juneteenth, the day on which Major General Gordon Granger’s announcement of the Emancipation Declaration in Texas heralded the liberation of the country’s last remaining slaves.
Juneteenth -- commemorating June 19th, 1865, the date slaves in Texas finally learned of their emancipation -- is a day of celebration for many African Americans. In exquisite, lyrical text, Johnson reimagines that historic event from the perspective of one fictional family, on a day that started like any other. Families wake and head to the fields to pick cotton under the blistering sun. But soon, "word spread / from the port, / to town, /through the countryside, / and into the fields / that a Union general had read from a balcony that we were all / now and forever free / and things / would be / all different now." The words build to a crescendo of emotions as these now-free people bow their heads to offer up prayers or raise their eyes to the heavens and prepare for a new life of freedom. Lewis's soft watercolors mirror the emotion of the text -- the sun reflects off the grateful faces, eyes face the future with clarity. The last spread shows the family, with carts packed, moving away from slavery and into a world that is "all different now." Placed alongside the many very good books about slavery for young readers, Johnson and Lewis's story is an excellent next step in African American history, a celebration of moving forward. robin l. smith

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