“Not a single kid in this world caused racism and engaged in enslaving people. However, it is important for them to understand how they are impacted by those things.”
- Robert J. Hendricks III
A beautifully illustrated picture book that discusses ancestry
“Juneteenth for Mazie,” written and illustrated by award-winning author Floyd Cooper, made it on nearly every educator’s list of recommended books for elementary school-age children. It follows a young girl named Mazie that, through hearing about the day her enslaved ancestors were freed, also learns about some of the struggles that led to that point.
“This can be used for kids between the ages of 4 and 10 or even older. It gives a great introduction to why we celebrate the holiday and some basic ways that it can be celebrated,” Moody said.
A grade schooler-friendly historical account of enslavement in America
This comprehensive and historical account for children was recommended by Leslie Wilson
, a professor of history and associate dean of the college of humanities and social sciences at Montclair State University. Colorfully illustrated and accompanied by a visual timeline of events, “The History of Juneteenth” by Arlisha Norwood helps to answer for young readers the “how” and “why” of Juneteenth, as well as asking thought-provoking questions about how the history of Juneteenth affects the world they live in today. There’s even a quiz at the end of the book to help test your kiddo’s knowledge about what they just learned.
A true retelling about the grandmother of Juneteenth and her intended vision for this day
“‘Opal Lee And What It Means To Be Free’ by Alice Fay Duncan focuses on Opal Lee and her vision of Juneteenth as a holiday for everyone. It is a simple book for young readers to learn her true story and specific history about the Juneteenth holiday,” Palmer told HuffPost.
Opal Lee was responsible for spearheading the movement into making Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday, Wilson said. This children’s book, which focuses on themes of determination and persistence, tells of how even when enslaved people became emancipated, they were still anything but free.
A lyrical children’s book that chronicles the modern consequences of slavery
Told through powerful verse and striking illustrations, ‘Born On The Water’ is part of a larger chronicle mentioned later on in this list ("The 1619 Project") and follows a young student who learns of her ancestral connection to enslavement after receiving a family tree assignment at school.
“It recounts the experiential history of enslavement through a grandmother's story of how her ancestors were stolen from good lives and how they survived. It provides readers with vivid images of cruelty of slavery and the hope of rebellion,” Palmer said.
For teens and young adults
A heartbreaking chapter book about a Black boy killed by the police
According to Hendricks, “Ghost Boys” by Jewell Parker Rhodes is an evocative story that will resonate with teens and young adults. Drawing connections throughout history, the book tells the story of a 12-year old boy who is shot and killed by the police who mistake his toy gun for a real one. At its core, this book is about recognizing historical racism and how it impacts the current lives of Black youth.
A visionary science fiction novel about a woman transported to the antebellum South
Matthew Kincaid, a former educator and founder, CEO and chief consulting officer of Overcoming Racism
, recommended this science fiction novel that follows a young woman who is snatched abruptly from her home in present-day California and transported to the horrors of antebellum South. Written by Octavia E. Butler, who brought us incredible works like "Parable Of The Sower
," “Kindred” focuses on the impacts of racism, sexism and white supremacy, then and now.
An unflinching autobiography about one woman’s adolescence in slavery
Kincaid also recommended this 19th century personal account of a young girl's adolescence spent enslaved in North Carolina and her eventual escape. "Incidents In The Life Of A Slave Girl," written by Harriet Jacobs, navigates the difficult terrain of being both Black and a woman while also calling on white women to understand how the threat of sexual violence uniquely shapes Black women's lives.
For high schoolers and beyond
A Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir that weaves together a family story and American history
Annette Gordon-Reed's "On Juneteenth," suggested by Wilson, is part origin story and part dramatic family memoir. The narrator shares personal anecdotes combined with historical facts to tell the overarching story of enslaved people brought to Civil War-era-Texas, the race-based economy of the time and the day when Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of legalized slavery in the state.
A journalistic endeavor that explores the origins of slavery and the ways it permeates the present
to HuffPost as a must-read, and now again by Kincaid, "The 1619 Project,"
created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, is an extensive catalogue of essays, poems and pieces of fiction that show how the racist sentiments that informed slavery reach contemporary American society in every facet, from health care to politics to capitalism.