4 Picture Books About Juneteenth

Since June 19th became a national holiday in 2021, the list of books about Juneteenth has been growing! Here is a handful of the latest titles for children.

Juneteenth covers animated

Since June 19th became a national holiday in 2021, more and more books about Juneteenth have been published. Here is a handful of the latest titles for children.


The Night Before Freedom: A Juneteenth Story by Glenda Armand. illus. by Corey Barksdale. Crown. ISBN 9780593567463. 
K-Gr 5–In this story of a family’s annual Juneteenth celebration, the matriarch recounts how her grandmother, Mom Bess, told the story of how she (at six years old) and her parents welcomed freedom on the first Juneteenth in 1865. David’s family is celebrating Juneteenth in Galveston, TX, with their relatives. The festivities, which include parades, speeches, food, and music, honor the day when enslaved people in Galveston finally learned of their freedom in 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. An ode to Clement C. Moore’s “The Night Before Christmas,” this story is written in the same meter as the well-known poem. Armand’s use of rhyme and rhythm throughout the book is reminiscent of nursery rhymes, in a way that makes the history digestible for young readers. The vibrant artwork depicts David’s ancestors and people in their community marching, dancing, praising, and singing as word of their newfound freedom spread. Colors are bright, warm, lively, flowy, soft, and blended. The faces have definition, the pages have texture, and the people seem to really move in each illustration. VERDICT Appropriate for elementary school libraries, and would also be an asset in a classroom library or as part of an elementary school lesson for kindergarten to fifth grade students.Matia Edwards

 Juneteenth by Van G Garrett. illus. by Reginald C. Adams & Samson Bimbo Adenugba. Clarion/Versify. ISBN 9780358574323. 
PreS-Gr 3–This story follows a young boy who journeys to Galveston, TX, to celebrate Juneteenth for the first time. His parents have packed the car and made sandwiches as if preparing for any other parade. But as the boy and his family set up their place to watch, the parade becomes an experience like no other. First, it’s the music; then, the realization that the people on the floats look like him. The smells of familiar food only reinforce that this parade is special. Sure, there are many familiar sights, such as a queen and the tossing of candy and beads, but this parade celebrates so much more. As his mom explains, it is a celebration of history, of overcoming struggle and abuse, of pride and hope. In a joyful climax, as fireworks explode over the ocean, voices chorus, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Readers will experience the Juneteenth celebration simultaneously with the young boy as an unfolding of the senses—sights, sounds, and scents of a parade—with the added enlightenment of the important history and significance of the celebration. Pen, ink, and watercolor illustrations highlight the colorfulness while adding detail to the many sights and faces of the people in the street dancing, cheering, and reveling in the fun. Particularly poignant are the images of historical figures who endured and triumphed over slavery, highlighted as the fireworks begin. VERDICT A memorable introduction to the richness of Juneteenth as well as to the significance of the celebration to the African American community. A perfect read-aloud and an excellent platform for discussing African American history.C.J.Connor

[Read: The Brown Bookshelf Spotlights Black Kid Lit Creators’ Thoughts on Juneteenth]

Jayylen’s Juneteenth Surprise by Lavaille Lavette. illus. by David Wilkerson. Golden Bks. (Little Golden Book). ISBN 9780593568149. 
PreS-Gr 2–This Little Golden Book explains why African Americans celebrate Juneteenth. After Jayylen and his family move “back home from the big city,” Jayylen’s grandfather, Paw Paw Jimmy, decides it is time to teach his grandson about their family traditions by arranging a Juneteenth celebration with two-steppin’ and music. Jayylen does not understand what Juneteenth is, so his mother and grandfather explain: “That was the day when enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that they were free.” The subject of slavery is explained to Jayylen in matter-of-fact terms that are appropriate for his young age; his mother tells Jayylen that enslaved people “are forced to work without pay” and that “many African people were taken from their countries. A lot of them were brought to America, where they were forced to do hard work and treated very poorly.” A fun cultural aspect is infused into the story when Jayylen’s grandfather explains the musical style zydeco and teaches Jayylen to play the frottoir. Illustrations are simple, but effective, and include enjoyable details such as the Elijah McCoy poster that hangs on Jayylen’s bedroom wall, and the shrimp and grits that the family eats for dinner. VERDICT For parents who want to introduce the meaning behind their Juneteenth celebrations; libraries with collections of Little Golden Books should include this one to broaden their selection.–Peggy Henderson Murphy

A Flag for Juneteenth by Kim Taylor. illus. by author. Holiday House/Neal Porter. ISBN 9780823452248. 
K-Gr 4–A colorful story about Huldah, a young enslaved girl who celebrates her 10th birthday and gains freedom on the same day: Juneteenth. Huldah, her family, and the other enslaved people at a Texas plantation are surprisingly notified of their freedom on June 19, 1865 by white soldiers. Shouts of joy, tears, and cheers soar across the plantation, and they immediately begin sewing freedom flags to commemorate the occasion. Huldah’s birthday is the beginning of a new life and the start of freedom, not just for herself, but for Black people in the South who had been enslaved. The illustrations quilted by Taylor display strong artistic use of color, texture, movement, stitching, and symbols. Each page has vibrant colors that grab readers at first glance. Throughout the book, Huldah’s black hair rests in different colored scarves, with an afro puff sitting on the back of her head. She and the people in the story are beautiful shades of brown, their deeply melanated faces free from facial features so readers may use their imaginations to visualize the characters’ expressions. Taylor effectively breathes life into the characters, even those muddled in the background, by showing their humanity in each page. The story brings Black culture to the forefront through illustrations of dark skin, freedom songs, and African symbolism and garb. VERDICT A story of triumph and celebration, this book is appropriate for elementary school libraries. It would also be an asset in a classroom library or as part of an elementary school lesson on Juneteenth for kindergarten through fourth grade students.Matia Edwards

Read more reviews of books about Juneteenth here.

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