Here’s a historical truth that a lot of people don’t realize: The end of slavery didn’t instantaneously occur when Abraham Lincoln enacted the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. Nor did it end two years later with the finish of the Civil War. In fact, many slaves in the South were purposely kept in the dark — this was most notably the case in Texas.
But in 1865, after the end of the Civil War, General Gordon Granger came to Galveston, Texas, to spread the news. It took time, but this kicked off the actual release of hundreds of thousands of slaves in the area.
On June 19, 1866, Black Americans celebrated the first anniversary of their freedom, and this important event remains marked on the calendar (it became a federal holiday last year) — so it is important that our kids, tweens, and teens understand the date’s significance. Want to help further their education around the existence and significance of Juneteenth? Here are four of the best Juneteenth books for middle schoolers.
The Story of Juneteenth: An Interactive History Adventure by Steven Otfinoski
This choose-your-own-adventure book puts you in the center of the action in 1865. You have to decide how you will fight to rise above the roadblocks in your life to live freely and independently now that slavery has been abolished. You can choose to travel north, find family you were separated from in your youth, or to fight oppression. Tweens get to “experience” multiple facets of this historic event.
Juneteenth: A Celebration of Freedom by Charles A. Taylor
This book focuses on the joy experienced when the slaves in Texas were finally released, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation and months after the Civil War officially ended. Chock-full of beautiful imagery, actual photographs, and historic documents, this book is a great option for elementary-age kids and middle schoolers.
Juneteenth: Freedom Day by Muriel Miller Branch
This book offers myriad photographs, historical documents, and newspaper clippings that add up to paint a picture of a beautiful and jubilant — but still serious — occasion that is Juneteenth. The author and photographer, a couple, took a trip to Galveston to experience the holiday in the town it started in.
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson
Told through the eyes of a girl living in slave quarters, you see how her everyday world changes on a small and large scale as the news becomes her reality: Slavery has ended. Subtly, as her life opens up, the imagery gets more vibrant. While the story is simple and geared for big kids and tweens, the author also offers a section with more historical information so that readers can do deeper research on their own.
June 19 is more than a date on the calendar. It’s a historic event worthy of commemoration, celebration, and deep reflection. One of the best ways to enhance your child’s education (and your own!) is by picking up a book and starting a conversation. These four — our top picks for best Juneteenth books for tweens — make for a great start; read them together or separately and foster a curiosity for asking questions, digging deeper, and doing more to mark Juneteenth.
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