Do you know the historical importance of June 19th, or Juneteenth? I’ll be completely up front and honest and admit that until a few years ago, well into adulthood, I had never even heard of Juneteenth. Fortunately for me and my children, my work with children’s books led me to some amazing titles about Juneteenth, which led me to learn more about this nationally celebrated commemoration of the official ending of enslavement in the United States. As Maya Angelou has been wonderfully quoted over the years, and especially in these last few weeks, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you do know better, do better.” Now that I know about Juneteenth, I am doing better, and I wanted to spread the word so that you can, too.
So, what exactly is Juneteenth? Also known as Emancipation Day, Juneteenth marks the effective end of enslavement in the United States, as June 19, 1865 was the day when Major General Granger issued an order to the state of Texas freeing all people who were enslaved. As we know, officially ending enslavement practices didn’t happen overnight (after all, June 19, 1865 was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and more than two months after the Civil War ended), and we still have lots of work to do on the road to equality. (For more information on Juneteenth, head to First Name Basis Podcast’s episode titled “What is Juneteenth?”)
But, in our house, we are working to learn more every day so that we can do better, and this summer, one of the steps we’re making is to read about the importance of Juneteenth and use this information as we move deeper into summer and celebrate America’s Independence Day on July 4. Yes, we will still celebrate the Fourth of July, because despite our historical and current mistakes, America is a pretty great place to live. But, we’ll also continue to learn about Juneteenth and have important discussions about July 4, 1776; June 19, 1865; and events, changes, similarities, and differences between and since those dates.
So, do you need some direction for learning about Juneteenth and talking about it with your children? I’ve got two terrific titles for you today! Continue reading for a little information about each.
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All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis — Short, beautifully written, and just as beautifully illustrated, All Different Now highlights emotions that people who were enslaved might have felt, from waking up to what they thought would be a normal day to receiving word that they were free. As is often the case when Lewis illustrates a book, his paintings really add to your depth of understanding of this narrative. Take time with each person’s facial expressions and use this as a starting point to talk about the whole range of emotions that people may have felt that day. Be sure to spend some time with the excellent back matter, as the author’s and illustrator’s notes, timeline, key dates, and glossary will add add to both your and your child’s understanding of the history and importance of Juneteenth.
Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper — Mazie is an endearing little girl who feels her life is unfair, much like many of our children today, because there is just so much she’s not allowed to do. When she complains about bedtime to her father, he grasps the opportunity to teach her about her great-great-great grandfather Mose, who was enslaved in Texas until June 19, 1865. However, Mose’s story doesn’t end there, because as we know, simply ending slavery didn’t guarantee equality. Unlike All Different Now, Juneteenth for Mazie addresses the inequalities and difficulties that persisted after slavery was effectively abolished, even up through current times, but still leaves the reader with the sense of celebration important to the date. Even so, Juneteenth for Mazie is still incredibly age-appropriate for the youngest of children, but gives older elementary students enough tidbits of information about Juneteenth and civil rights that this could make a great introduction story for a more in-depth story.