7 Books to Help Teach Kids About Juneteenth

·3 min read
Photo:  wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock)
Photo: wavebreakmedia (Shutterstock)

This weekend, the country will celebrate Juneteenth, a day that commemorates the official end of slavery in the United States, over two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Although people have celebrated Juneteenth since 1865, Texas was the first state to make it a holiday in 1980. And it only became an official federal holiday in 2021.

If you’re looking for ways to teach your kids about Juneteenth, we’ve rounded up a list of books that explain why we celebrate the day in the most kid-appropriate way possible. And as you read with your little ones, you may learn a little something yourself.

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Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story by Valerie Wesley

Freedom’s Gifts: A Juneteenth Story is a wonderful way to bring the holiday to life for your third and fourth graders. Set in 1943, the story centers around a young girl who teaches her cousin about the importance of Juneteenth with the help of their great-great aunt who was once a slave. According to one review, “ Valerie Wesley makes the language in Freedom’s Gifts sing.”

Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle

If you’re looking for an alternative to the traditional textbook, Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem is perfect for kids between the ages of 4 and 8. This beautifully written poem is complemented by colorful illustrations included with each stanza. The style transitions seamlessly from free verse to rhyme and is sure to become a new family favorite.

What is Juneteenth? by Kirsti Jewel

A great learning tool for kids ages 8-12, What is Juneteenth? is part of the New York Times bestselling What Is? series. The book breaks down the history of the holiday and shares stories of celebrations from the past to the present. In addition to the black and white illustrations throughout the book, there is also a 16-page photo insert that brings the magic of the day to life.

The History of Juneteenth: A History Book for New Readers by Arlisha Norwood PhD

Photo:  Rockridge Press
Photo: Rockridge Press

Geared towards kids ages 6 - 9, this book is part of The History of: A History Series for New Readers. The History of Juneteenth gives young readers all of the facts they need to understand why we celebrate the day, accompanied by colorful illustrations to keep kids engaged. Important vocabulary words are highlighted and referenced in a glossary at the end. And when they’re done reading, there is a short quiz to test what they learned.

Juneteenth (On My Own Holidays) by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson & Drew Nelson

Juneteenth is part of the On My Own Holidays series. The book, written by former youth services librarian Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and her husband, Drew, is meant to bring the story of the day to life for 7 - 9-year-olds. Although most kids in grades 2 through 4 should have no problem reading the book on their own, the glossary at the end provides pronunciations and age-appropriate definitions of important terms like emancipation and amendment. One happy customer wrote in part, “The book does a great job explaining (and illustrating) Juneteenth traditions.”

Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan

This hardcover picture book is best for kids ages 4 - 8. The book introduces young readers to Opal Lee, considered the Grandmother of Juneteenth, who fought for years to have June 19th recognized as a holiday. In addition to learning the real-life story of the evolution of the Juneteenth holiday, the book also includes a recipe for a Juneteenth Strawberry Lemonade that would be a great addition to your family’s celebration.

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Written and illustrated by award-winning author and illustrator Floyd Cooper, Juneteenth for Mazie is a great resource for kids ages 6 - 9. When Mazie complains about her parents rules around bedtime and sweets, her father helps her understand that their ancestors, who were slaves, dealt with much more serious restrictions on their freedom. With her dad’s help, Mazie learns the importance of Juneteenth and why it is still celebrated today.