20 Best Juneteenth Books to Help Kids Understand and Celebrate the Holiday
"Hearst Magazines and Yahoo may earn commission or revenue on some items through these links."
Juneteenth may be a federal holiday in the United States, but since it’s only been mandated for two full years, many are still unfamiliar with its history. In fact, in a 2022 poll, 29% of U.S. adults said they knew "a little bit" about the holiday, and 11% said they knew "nothing at all." If many adults are slowly but surely learning about the day that marks the end of slavery in the United States, children are even more in need of education. What better way to teach them than with the best Juneteenth books for kids?
Books are a great way to break down and effectively communicate complex concepts in ways that children can easily understand. Sure, topics of slavery, racism, and parts of Black history, which is essentially American history, may spark uncomfortable conversations — but they are necessary.
"It's important to teach children about Juneteenth because it is imperative for children to understand American history," Naledi Yaziyo, co-owner and curator of Rofhiwa Book Cafe in Durham, North Carolina, tells Woman's Day. "Juneteenth is a part of American history. It is a part of American history that matters even more if we want children to be knowledgeable about not only the struggles of African American people in this country but also the triumphs of African Americans in their long struggle for freedom in this country. When you teach about Juneteenth you teach children about the creativity and innovation of Black people in this country throughout time and history."
Some kids may not fully grasp the idea that the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863, but enslaved people in Texas were not notified of their freedom until two years later on June 19, 1865. Thankfully, Juneteenth books for kids can get the message across in ways that their growing minds can comprehend.
From colorful Juneteenth picture books and board books for toddlers to engaging YA stories of freedom and justice for teens, we’ve rounded up 20 of the best Juneteenth books for young readers. While these titles are aimed for children, adults can also be enlightened by the significance of the holiday when reading these as a family.
To keep the enlightenment going, share these Juneteenth quotes and Juneteenth prayers with friends and family. Although the holiday is only celebrated one day a year, it's a subject and conversation that parents and educators alike can continue far beyond June.
"I think it should be part of a year's worth of curriculum on African American life, history and culture," says Yaziyo. "Educators and parents should be mindful of how they integrate African American life in this country into their teaching so that Juneteenth doesn't just show up in June but is rather part of a larger story that parents and teachers are telling all year — the story of this particular nation and the shifting place of African Americans in it."
'The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read'
Written by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrated by Oge Mora, this award-winning title tells the true story of Mary Walker, a Black woman born into slavery who learned how to read at the age of 116!
"As a rule we love Oge Mora here at Rofhiwa," says Yaziyo. "We're a bookstore and this book speaks to us because it locates reading as a practice within the long history of the African American struggle for freedom. It's such a powerful message, particularly right now when so many of our books are under threat of censorship and bans. It's a powerful reminder that for us as Black people across the world, reading was never just a simple pleasure but a powerful tool in our struggle for emancipation."
'Juneteenth for Mazie'
Written and illustrated by award-winning author Floyd Cooper, this book is ideal for little learners ages 4-8. Set in the present, it tells the story of Mazie, a young girl who is excited to celebrate her first Juneteenth. To teach Mazie about her family’s struggles and triumphs, her dad shares stories about the day her great-great-great-grandfather, Mose, crossed into freedom.
'Juneteenth: A Children's Story'
Who better to teach children about the history of Juneteenth than Opal Lee? Affectionately known as the “grandmother of Juneteenth,” she introduces young readers to difficult subjects such as slavery and discrimination in ways that are engaging and easy for them to understand.
'How to Be a (Young) Antiracist'
Inspired by Ibram X. Kendi’s best-selling title, “How to Be An Anti-racist,” this iteration is co-written by children’s book author Nic Stone and serves as a guide for teens on a quest to dismantle racism and injustice in America. It provides readers with relatable anecdotes and interesting data that speak directly to the youth, while encouraging critical thinking.
'Eboni's Juneteenth Celebration'
Written by Dallas-based author Debi Norton and illustrated by Tiye Samone, this book gives young readers a comprehensible overview of Juneteenth that encourages interaction. The best part? It offers fun activities throughout to keep kids engaged and entertained.
'The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States'
Available in hardcover and paperback, this delightful read is the perfect introduction to Juneteenth for young readers. Filled with vibrant illustrations, it details the evolution of the holiday. What’s more, it includes a thoughtful timeline to give children a frame of reference that helps summarize the historical events.
'Jayylen's Juneteenth Surprise'
When Jayylen's family begins preparing for their upcoming Juneteenth celebration, he questions the history behind the holiday. After learning more, he anticipates testing his new skills playing a new and unfamiliar musical instrument to join in the festivities.
'Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You'
Written with teens in mind, this read is not a history book. Instead, it's a provocative guide for young people seeking knowledge and insight on how to navigate a world that's rife with with racism.
'Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth'
In case you didn’t know, Opal Lee is affectionately referred to as the "grandmother of Juneteenth" and for good reason. She’s the woman responsible for bringing national attention and ultimately the holidays' recognition to the forefront. This book tells the story from her perspective as a child growing up in Texas who always celebrated the holiday and hoped to raise its significance to the whole country.
'The History of Juneteenth: A History Book for New Readers'
Author and social justice advocate Arlisha Norwood, PhD, uses colorful illustrations and age-appropriate language to give young readers an overview of the holiday. After they read about the history, kids will also have an opportunity to test their knowledge by taking a fun quiz.
It's never too early to learn! Recommended for ages 1-6, this bold picture book empowers parents and small children on how to be antiracist and help build a more unified world.
Freedom in Congo Square
Published in 2015, this bestseller is a poetic take on how enslaved people in 19th century New Orleans retained their spirit during in darkest times by experiencing fleeting bouts of joy every Sunday in Congo Square.
"I love this book because I think it took a lot of years and a lot of education for most of us to realize that enslaved people had lives that were full," says Yaziyo. "Lives that had moments of joy and revelry. That's what the book does in telling the history of Congo Square, it introduces early readers to a narrative that many of us had to find out as adults — that even in bondage African Americans were always fully and utterly human."
'Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem'
A lyrical ode to the strength of African Americans, Sojourner Kincaid Rolle's poem-turned-book captures the essence of enslaved people who persevered and whose legacies continue today.
A Flag for Juneteenth
Acclaimed quilter and speech pathologist, Kim Taylor, shares a story of the first Juneteenth celebration through the eyes of a bright young girl. Vivid patchwork artistry brings this story to life. Young readers and parents alike will appreciate the tactile quality that makes this book uniquely one of a kind.
'All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom'
Angela Johnson and E.B. Lewis, an award-winning team come together to tell the story of the joy felt by one little girl who experiences her first day of freedom. Lewis's captivating illustrations complement Johnson's poetic writing style leaving readers wanting more.
'Let’s Celebrate Juneteenth' An Inclusive Holiday Board Book for Babies and Toddlers
Babies, toddlers and preschoolers can get in on the Juneteenth celebrations too with this fun board book. Thanks to the durable, colorful cardboard pages, young readers can flip through and learn all about the holiday through graphic images and familiar sight words.
'What Is Juneteenth?'
For children eager to learn about Juneteenth, this book gives them a general overview that's fun to read. Plus, it shares stories of celebrations past and present couple with 80 black-and-white illustrations and a 16-page photo insert.
'The Story of Juneteenth'
This 250-word board book will teach young learners about the origins and traditions of Juneteenth through simple language and rich illustrations.
'An Unforgettable Journey: A Juneteenth Story'
Celebrating Juneteenth at a joyous cookout, young attendees are excited for story time as they're told the history behind the holiday. Readers will learn about the arduous journey leading up to the revelry that's popular today.
'The Night Before Freedom: A Juneteenth Story'
Through rhyming text and lively illustrations, Glenda Armand and Corey Barksdale come together to tell the story of a little boy who can't wait to hear his grandmother's retelling of the night before she and other enslaved people were freed.
You Might Also Like