Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed. Although the proclamation outlawed slavery in all Confederate states and had been signed nearly three years earlier, the news was kept from Black Texans until occupying Union forces arrived in Galveston at the end of the Civil War. [Note: Black Americans were still enslaved in Union states up until the 13th amendment was ratified on December 6, 1865.] 

Although the holiday was originally celebrated only in Texas, over time Black families across the country began to observe the day in their own ways with family and community gatherings, picnics, readings, and marches, honoring culture, activism, a people’s humanity as well as a shared history of resilience and fortitude in an ongoing struggle. In 2021, Juneteenth was finally declared a national holiday. 

Many celebrations will be taking place across the Twin Cities. Find a list of events here and make your plans for Juneteenth! Parents and educators can also consider pairing the titles below with news articles highlighting how the holiday is being celebrated around the country. Plan a visit to Minnesota’s African American Heritage Museum and Gallery and listen to a story online through the museum’s Children’s Reading Circle program.  

All titles are available through the Debra S Fish Early Childhood Resource Library, a branch of the St. Paul Public Library. If you’d like more title recommendations, our librarian would be happy to help! Please contact Jennie at librarian@thinksmall.org  

Children’s Titles: 

Let’s Celebrate Emancipation Day & Juneteenth (Age Focus: 6 – 10 years) 

In the 1800s, abolitionists like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Sojourner Truth fought for freedom from slavery for all African Americans. They fought with speeches, songs, newspapers, and even with daring rescue missions! Every year on both Emancipation Day and Juneteenth we honor and continue their fight for freedom and equality. From the publisher 

Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans (Age Focus: 6 – 10 years) 

The story of America and African Americans is a story of hope and inspiration and unwavering courage. In Heart and Soul, Kadir Nelson’s stirring paintings and words grace 100-plus pages of a gorgeous picture book—a beautiful gift for readers of all ages, a treasure to share across generations at home or in the classroom. 

Winner of numerous awards, including the Coretta Scott King Author Award and Illustrator Honor, and the recipient of five starred reviews, the story is told through the unique point of view and intimate voice of a one-hundred-year-old African-American female narrator. 

This inspiring book demonstrates that in striving for freedom and equal rights, African Americans help our country on the journey toward its promise of liberty and justice—the true heart and soul of our nation. From the publisher 

Freedom Bird (Age Focus: 5 – 9 years) 

In this inspiring story in the tradition of American black folktales, an enslaved brother and sister are inspired by a majestic and mysterious bird to escape to freedom in this dramatic and unforgettable picture book. 
Brother and sister Millicent and John are slaves on Simon Plenty’s plantation and have suffered one hurt and heartbreak after another. Their parents had told them old tales of how their ancestors had flown away to freedom just as free and easy as a bird. Millicent and John hold these stories in their hearts long after their parents are gone. “Maybe such a time will come for you,” their parents said. Then one day a mysterious bird appears in their lives. The bird transforms them and gives them the courage to set their plan into motion and escape to freedom. From the publisher 

Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth (Age Focus: 6 – 8 years) 

The true story of Black activist Opal Lee and her vision of Juneteenth as a holiday for everyone celebrates Black joy and inspires children to see their dreams blossom. Growing up in Texas, Opal knew the history of Juneteenth, but she soon discovered that many Americans had never heard of the holiday that represents the nation’s creed of “freedom for all.” Every year, Opal looked forward to the Juneteenth picnic–a drumming, dancing, delicious party. She knew from Granddaddy Zak’s stories that Juneteenth celebrated the day the freedom news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally sailed into Texas in 1865–over two years after the president had declared it! But Opal didn’t always see freedom in her Texas town. One Juneteenth day when Opal was twelve years old, an angry crowd burned down her brand-new home. This wasn’t freedom at all. She had to do something! Opal Lee spent the rest of her life speaking up for equality and unity. She became a teacher, a charity worker, and a community leader. At the age of 89, she walked from Fort Worth, Texas to Washington, D.C., in an effort to gain national recognition for Juneteenth. Through the story of Opal Lee’s determination and persistence, children ages 4 to 8 will learn: all people are created equal; the power of bravery and using your voice for change; the history of Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, and what it means today; no one is free unless everyone is free; fighting for a dream is worth every difficulty. From the publisher 

Holiday Kids: Juneteenth – Freedom Day [DVD] 

In this new 2022 high-definition program, learn all about Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the end of slavery by marking the day enslaved people in Texas learned that they were free. Why did President Joe Biden declare Juneteenth a federal holiday? How is it celebrated? What is the history of the holiday? The answers to these questions and more are covered in depth with detailed graphics, engaging examples and exciting video that reinforce important points and make learning fun. From the publisher 

Adult’s Titles: 

Watermelon & Red BirdsWatermelon & Red Birds: A Cookbook for Juneteenth and Black Celebrations 

All-day cookouts with artful salads, bounteous dessert spreads, and raised glasses of “red drink” are essential to Juneteenth gatherings. In Watermelon and Red Birds, Nicole puts jubilation on the main stage. As a master storyteller and cook, she bridges the traditional African American table and 21st-century flavors in stories and recipes. Nicole synthesizes all the places we’ve been, all the people we have come from, all the people we have become, and all the culinary ideas we have embraced. 
Watermelon and Red Birds contains over 75 recipes, including drinks like Afro Egg Cream and Marigold Gin Sour, dishes like Beef Ribs with Fermented Harissa Sauce, Peach Jam and Molasses Glazed Chicken Thighs, Southern-ish Potato Salad and Cantaloupe and Feta Salad, and desserts like Roasted Nectarine Sundae, and Radish and Ginger Pound Cake. Taylor also provides a resource to guide readers to BIPOC-owned hot sauces, jams, spice, and waffle mixes companies and lists fun gadgets to make your Juneteenth special. These recipes and essays will inspire parties to salute one of the most important American holidays, and moments to savor joy all year round. From the publisher 

The Black Civil War Soldier: a Visual History of Conflict and Citizenship 

A stunning collection of stoic portraits and intimate ephemera from the lives of Black Civil War soldiers. In The Black Civil War Soldier, Deb Willis explores the crucial role of photography in (re)telling and shaping African American narratives of the Civil War, pulling from a dynamic visual archive that has largely gone unacknowledged. The photographs are supplemented with handwritten captions, letters, and other personal materials. Willis not only dives into the lives of black Union soldiers, but also includes stories of other African Americans involved with the struggle-from left-behind family members to female spies. Willis thus compiles a captivating memoir of photographs and words and examines them together to address themes of love and longing responsibility and fear commitment and patriotism and-most predominantly African American resilience. Through her multimedia analysis, Willis acutely pinpoints the importance of African American communities in the development and prosecution of the war. The book shows how photography helped construct a national vision of Blackness, war, and bondage, while unearthing the hidden histories of these black Civil War soldiers. In combating the erasure of this often-overlooked history, Willis asks how these images might offer a more nuanced memory of African American participation in the Civil War, and in doing so, points to individual and collective struggles for citizenship and remembrance. From the publisher 

Unseen: Unpublished Black History from the New York Times Photo Archives 

 Hundreds of stunning images from black history have long been buried in the New York Times archives. None of them were published by the Times–until now. Unseen uncovers these never-before published photographs and investigates the stories behind them. From the publisher 

Black Joy: Stories of Resistance, Resilience, and Restoration 

 When Tracey M. Lewis-Giggetts wrote an essay on Black joy for the Washington Post, she had no idea just how deeply it would resonate, but the outpouring of responses affirmed her own lived experience: that Black joy is not just a weapon of resistance, it is a tool for resilience. With this book, Tracey aims to gift her community with a collection of lyrical essays about the way joy has evolved, even in the midst of trauma, in her own life. Detailing these instances of joy in the context of Black culture allows us to recognize the power of Black joy as a resource to draw upon, and to challenge the one-note narratives of Black life as solely comprised of trauma and hardship. From the publisher 

A Garden of Black Joy: Global Poetry From the Edges of Liberation and Living 

An anthology of poems, interviews, and essays that spotlight black joy as a resource of abundance, and as a mode of self-defense. Poets from England, Nigeria, Kenya, Germany, and beyond provide a sketch of what black joy means in this moment and how to make use of it in the name of the future. 

Online Resources: 

Teaching Juneteenth | Learning for Justice: The history of Juneteenth acknowledges hard history while also empowering students to be advocates for change. 

Webinar: Teaching About Juneteenth with Children’s Books: In this conversation with three experts, Lee & Low explores the importance of this holiday, how and why it’s celebrated across the country, as well as relevant books, teaching strategies, and more. Our panelists are Newbery and Caldecott Honor-winning author and poet Carole Boston Weatherford (Juneteenth Jamboree), alongside expert educators Dr. Amanda Vickery, Assistant Professor of Social Studies at University of North Texas, and Dawnavyn James, Missouri-based Early Childhood and Elementary Educator. 

Juneteenth | National Museum of African American History and Culture  

NMAAHC Kids: Understanding & Celebrating Juneteenth: NMAAHC’s early childhood education team offers the following resources to support young children’s understanding and celebration of Juneteenth: a guide on how to talk about slavery and freedom in age appropriate ways, an activity to inspire hope and activism, and a children’s book and online resources list. 

Juneteenth | Saint Paul Public Library : List of upcoming events celebrating Juneteenth 2022 

By Jennie Walker Knoot