The Best Kids' Books About Juneteenth, According To Black Teachers

Books by Octavia E. Butler, Annette Gordon-Reed and more commemorate this significant day in American history, and remind us of all the work that still needs to be done.
Left to right: Bedford Palmer, Angela Moody, Robert Hendricks, Leslie Wilson and Matthew Kincaid.
St. Mary's College of California, Outschool, He Is Me Institute, Montclair State University, Overcoming Racism
Left to right: Bedford Palmer, Angela Moody, Robert Hendricks, Leslie Wilson and Matthew Kincaid.

Can’t get enough great reads? Join our official monthly book club, HuffPost Readable, to get great book suggestions and participate in important discussions with fellow book lovers.

For adults, attempting to process America’s grotesque and ongoing relationship with enslavement can be overwhelming — never mind if you’re a child. And, if you’re a white parent, days like Juneteenth might prompt complex conversations that you might not know how to have, but are critical to have nonetheless.

Robert J. Hendricks III, an educator based in Boston and founder of He Is Me, a non-profit geared toward empowering Black men in and toward teaching, told HuffPost that utilizing books as teaching tools for parents can be a great option, especially in moments in which you don’t have sufficient language.

Childhood might actually be the best time to begin the work of holistically looking at the Black experience, especially in a world largely observed through a white-only lens, said Bedford Palmer II, a licensed psychologist, associate professor at St. Mary’s College and author of the children’s book “Black Joy: A Healthy Conversation About Race.”

“White children should learn about Black experiences [because] the ignorance of the realities of racism makes white children vulnerable to picking up racist beliefs and behaviors,” Palmer told HuffPost.

Without these critical moments of learning, he explained, white children are left with an inability to understand the systems of oppression that they will be asked to participate in, whether overtly or subconsciously.

“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

Hendricks said that packaging the topic of the white experience versus the Black experience as “right or wrong” is a bad start. Instead, he suggests emphasizing the fact that everyone, no matter their race, is inextricably linked to history, even in the present day.

“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,” Hendricks said. “Having that full picture is, I think, the most important way for a kid to understand truly what we mean when we talk about the Black experience and can help them in understanding their own experience as well.”

If you’re wondering whether historically accurate discussions are appropriate for younger children, Angela Moody, a children’s school teacher with the online online education platform, Outschool, pointed out that “Black children aren’t afforded the privilege of only hearing what’s comfortable and palatable. If they can handle certain topics, so can other children.”

Juneteenth is intended to commemorate Black liberation from enslavement in the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the ending of racism in this country. Hendricks says the children’s books you choose should stray away from being overly white-centered or overly celebratory from the Black perspective.

“Look for books that paint the picture so a child can really see and feel what it’s like in order to become more appreciative of different people. Then they can jump into some of those more direct conversations, or maybe they will even need them less because they just get it,” he said.

The bridge between clumsy discussions and acknowledging an existing system seeped in inequities is difficult to cross, but it’s not impossible.

“If parents normalize these kinds of conversations early, it can actually make them less uncomfortable. It will also create a more understanding and empathetic world,” Moody said.

You can keep scrolling to see some of Moody’s Juneteenth book suggestions for kids as well as some other top picks by Black educators, just in time to commemorate the ending of enslavement in America and the beginning of a greater understanding.

HuffPost may receive a share from purchases made via links on this page. Every item is independently selected by the HuffPost Shopping team. Prices and availability are subject to change.

For Children Ages 4 Through 10

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
Previously recommended 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.
"A Is For Activist"

Children's Books About Racism And Activism To Help Parents Educate Their Kids

Popular in the Community

MORE IN LIFE