Move over Fourth of July. For many Black families, there’s an Independence Day that is much more important: Juneteenth or “Emancipation Day.” First celebrated on June 19, 1866, Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. It marks the day the last enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned they were free; nearly two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed. Though the holiday has always held importance for Black people, it has become increasingly well-known in non-BIPOC communities in recent years, and in 2021 it became a federal holiday in the United States.
Whether you’re looking to add new resources to your annual celebration or just learning about the holiday for the first time, here are six books for kids to learn about and celebrate Juneteenth.
“All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom” by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
This beautifully illustrated all-ages picture book is simple but powerful. Narrated by a young enslaved girl, it takes readers back to the first Juneteenth celebration. At the end of the book, you’ll find a more detailed historical timeline of Juneteenth as well as more information about the Emancipation Proclamation and Emancipation Day. Age range: 5–9
“Juneteenth for Mazie” by Floyd Cooper
Another gorgeously illustrated story, this picture book is narrated by a father who is explaining to his daughter, Mazie, why they celebrate Juneteenth. The book discusses the events that led to the first Juneteenth, and links them to their family ancestry as well as to the current-day struggle for equality. While there are a few outdated words and historical perspectives, I love that this story addresses the continued fight for freedom of the Civil Rights era — and beyond — in simple terms that kids can understand. Age range: 6–9
“Juneteenth Jamboree” by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Yvonne Buchanan
This picture book helps readers learn about the holiday through a little girl’s eyes and encourages young readers to ask important questions about why it took so long for enslaved people to receive news of their freedom. Age range: 8–12
“Juneteenth (On My Own Holidays)” by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson and Drew Nelson, illustrated by Mark Schroder
My personal favorite, this book introduces readers to the events that led to the first Juneteenth celebration. But it doesn’t stop there. The story then urges young readers to imagine what life was like for enslaved people before they were freed, and provides a historical perspective on everything from the human trafficking of Black people that led to slavery to the importance of present-day celebrations. What I love most is how it centers the Black experience then and now in the telling of the story of Juneteenth. Age range: 7–10
“Juneteenth: Story of Our Holidays” by Joanna Ponto and Angela Leeper
This book offers an in-depth history of Juneteenth and is filled with images of modern-day celebrations, Black abolitionists, activists and original documents of the Civil War. The book even ends with a Juneteenth recipe and craft! Because it’s longer (nearly 30 pages), it’s best for slightly older elementary-age kids. But since it explores more difficult topics related to enslavement, you may want to make sure you read it with your child, even if they are an independent reader. Age range: 8–12
“The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure” by Steven Otfinoski
Though I find the concept of emancipation termed an “adventure” cringe-y at best, I have to admit this book could cleverly engage young readers to explore this history. If you feel your kid might better relate to and empathize with enslaved people’s experiences by being presented with similar choices, this might be the read for them. The book offers a lengthy historical introduction before allowing readers to choose from among three different stories of formerly enslaved people navigating their new freedom. Age range: 8–11
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in June 2021, and updated in June 2022.