9 Informative Reads to Cultivate Your Child’s Juneteenth Knowledge

Our world is rapidly changing and the significance of cultural representation cannot be overstated. Read on for Juneteenth Recs for your little bookworms.

Author's Corner Black Voices Recommendations Young Readers
Black family reading a picture book together.

Yes, having a diverse population can signify different things for different people. It could mean a tax write-off for businesses or a scholarship for students. Frequent exposure to diverse content tends to positively correlate with a shift in perspective – both for those sharing their native experiences and those willing to explore cultures that differ from theirs. Ultimately, this creates a shared experience that can lead to global innovation, prosperity, and initiative to better humankind.

To demonstrate this, let’s go back to Genesis and the Tower of Babel. After the Flood, all the peoples of the world spoke the same language and collaborated to build the tallest tower in an effort to reach the heavens. Of course, humans overtaking Heaven is a no-no, so God intervenes by separating people once more. 

Blue font and prayer hands. Genesis 11:6 quoted.

We are no longer reaching for Heaven, we are reaching far beyond. With high-tech developments (think AI and beyond) rapidly improving communication and collaboration on an international level, the impossible is becoming possible. Even probable, in some cases. What becomes of these cultural and technological mergers on a global level remains to be seen.

Children are the future of this world, and through exposure to cultures outside their own, children can foster empathy, patience, and understanding to create a society in which everyone truly is equal. Breaking through generational, political, and societal divides is no easy task, but it begins here – in children’s literature – cultivating the courage to tear down outdated beliefs today means inclusion for all tomorrow.  

Juneteenth Freedom Day graphic with hands of varying color connecting

Board Books

Board books are the gateway into the literary world. Infants are like little informational sponges. They absorb everything as rapidly as possible because they want to interact, and board books fulfill this need. They expose children to experiences our immediate environments cannot provide. Toddlers as young as one seek connections between their lives and the books they read, which means even board books about cultural diversity can help develop an appreciation for that diversity. 

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

Little girl celebrating Juneteenth amidst parade in background.

Mazie loves Juneteenth! She loves sharing her ancestors’ struggles and celebrating their triumphs. Get ready with Mazie as she prepares to celebrate a great day in American history, a great day for freedom. 

Let’s Celebrate Juneteenth by Tonya Abari and Illustrated by Tabitha Brown

Bright board book cover with children celebrating Juneteenth.

Beautiful introduction to Juneteenth! Vibrant illustrations depict various ways people celebrate the anniversary of freedom for all. Published by Mudpuppy, Let’s Celebrate Juneteenth and the company’s other board books are developmentally appropriate and prioritize exploring diversity and representation in their catalog.

Picture Books

Reading picture books with and as children has numerous proven benefits, including fostering empathy and an understanding of different traditions, representation, and inclusion, and on a cognitive level, can enhance language, literacy, and critical thinking development. Essentially, diverse works can and should also be read by readers of different backgrounds because that’s how we connect. These picture books present positive and historical representations of Juneteenth celebrations and how those celebrations may look different around the country. 

J is for Juneteenth by Jamariah Cross, Kimani Prince, and Ariyah Webster and Illustrated by Reyhana Ismail

Diverse gathering of people holding a sign with the title J is for Juneteenth.

This book takes young readers through the history of celebrating Juneteenth. Each letter in the word “Juneteenth” represents something of historical relevance and a concise explanation of its significance. Written by three young authors, this book was a collaboration for a competition hosted by the Planting People Growing Justice Leadership Institute.

The Juneteenth Story: Celebrating the End of Slavery in the United States by Alliah L. Agostini and Illustrated by Sawyer Cloud

Children dancing in a circle next to a laid out picnic.

On June 19, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation, the enslaved people of Texas learned of their freedom. This historical picture book explains events leading up to the emancipation, those thereafter, and why it took literal years for the enslaved Texans to begin enjoying that freedom. While this holiday – originally called Jubilee Day – does originate in Texas, its celebration is now nationwide.

A Flag for Juneteenth by Kim Taylor

Quilted woman with a quilted flag.

Juneteenth has slowly gained traction over the past 150 years. In 2020, the powerful wave of protests for justice and racial equality brought significant awareness to the holiday. Today, many people – even those without ancestral slaves – celebrate freedom. This story takes place just before that fateful day, depicting a day in the life of a young slave girl, Huldah, preparing for her tenth birthday in Galveston, TX aka Juneteenth’s origin).

Free At Last A Juneteenth Poem by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle and Illustrated by Alex Bostic

Three people looking up and to the left.

This narrative poem takes readers from the beginnings of Juneteenth in Galveston, and travels across America as observers continue to grow in number over time. Young readers journey from past to present and learn about contemporary Juneteenth observances that honor the strength of the first Black Americans to celebrate the meaning of freedom.

The Night Before Freedom: A Juneteenth Story by Glenda Armand and Illustrated by Corey Barksdale

Family dancing at dusk in a field.

Every year, David’s family gathers at Grandma’s house to listen to her annual retelling of Juneteenth. Grandma’s grandmother, Mom Bess, experienced the very first Juneteenth when she was six years old. David eagerly hangs on every lyrical phrase as he experiences Juneteenth through his ancestor’s eyes.

Nonfiction and Interactive Books

Nonfiction belongs on this Juneteenth list, and there are many to choose from. In addition to the benefits picture books provide, culturally diverse nonfiction books help children develop a global perspective and awareness, and the skills to advocate for marginalized voices. Adults, it’s not too late for us to benefit too!

What Is Juneteenth? by Kirsti Jewel Illustrated by Manuel Gutierrez

Large headed caricature of children celebrating Juneteenth.

On June 19, 1865, slaves in Texas learned they were free! No more forced pay without labor was a cause for the newly emancipated to celebrate. From this joyous celebration, a national holiday emerged: Juneteenth. Today, Juneteenth is celebrated nationwide by many people, and more continue to observe the holiday every year.

Freedom Day quote inside a thin border. Fists raised in solidarity and colorful flowers outside the boarder.

Interactive and Choose-Your-Adventure books also have their place in child development. Books in which children are active participants help develop decision-making and problem-solving skills and provides a safe place for children to explore consequences in a “realistic” way.

The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure by Steven Oftinoski

Union soldier riding on horseback to deliver news of freedom to enslaved people at sunset.

The great news has been delivered to Galveston, TX – the slaves are free! However, Southern slave owners are reluctant to let their former slaves go. In this You Choose adventure, the reader must make decisions that could lead to true freedom for good.

Exposure to diversity through books can do nothing but help proper development at any age or stage. From enhancing cognitive development in early childhood to fostering a sense of empathy and connection to others around them, children need this exposure in our post-pandemic world more than ever before.  Juneteenth’s recent revival in mainstream media during the pandemic helped shed much-needed awareness of an American holiday, and thankfully, we have literature for all ages to educate the next generation. 

Enjoyed this dive into diverse children’s literature? Click here to learn more about the history of Juneteenth!

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