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Juneteenth – TEACH Magazine


Originally published in TEACH Magazine, May/June 2024 Issue

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, the last enslaved people in Texas were emancipated. Over 150 years later, in 2021, Juneteenth was established as an official federal holiday in the U.S., although it has been observed in Texas and other states since 1866. It is a time to recognize African American freedom, achievement, resilience, and culture, while also acknowledging the work towards equality that is still ongoing today. As you and your students get ready to celebrate this important holiday, here are some recently-released books to help you learn more about the history of Juneteenth and the lived realities of Black people in America, both past and present.

In this semi-autobiographical poetry collection, award-winning author Renée Watson presents a celebration of Black girlhood. Through haiku, free verse, and a variety of other poetic forms, Watson shares her experience of growing up as a young Black girl in Portland. Her book also includes poetic odes to the Black women in her life, along with calls to action for other Black girls, urging them to embrace their own futures. The book is accompanied by an educator’s guide.

By Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Reggie Brown
Candlewick Press (March 2024)
Grade Level: K–3

Bros is a celebration of Black boy joy. Through its pages, young readers will follow along as a group of young Black boys spend a day together in their community. Filled with stories of adventure and friendship coupled with plenty of colourful illustrations, Bros serves as a reminder that Black boys deserve fun and safe childhoods just as much as anyone else. Be sure to also check out the supplementary teacher’s guide.

The Color of a Lie
By Kim Johnson
Random House Books for Young Readers (June 2024)
Grade Level: 7–12

Set in 1955, this social justice thriller follows a Black family as they move to a “Whites Only” suburb. There they spend their days passing as white, but for teenage Calvin, hiding his true self is easier said than done. And when he uncovers dark secrets about the suburb and the people who live there, the town becomes more dangerous than he could’ve ever imagined. Based around real historical events, acclaimed author Kim Johnson shines a light on issues faced by Black people in America 70 years ago and still to this day.

This charming, brightly illustrated cookbook contains 18 easy recipes for popular Juneteenth dishes. From potato salad to chicken sliders to red velvet ice cream sandwiches, kids are sure to have a blast crafting these delicious foods. They’ll also learn about the historical origins of barbeque and how it relates to Juneteenth and Black culture. The Juneteenth Cookbook even includes five activity sections: kids can design their own Juneteenth outfit, play mancala, join in virtual Juneteenth celebrations across America, and more!

Juneteenth Is
By Natasha Tripplett
Illustrated by Daniel J. O’Brien
Chronicle Books (April 2024)
Grade Level: K–3

This picture book is a tribute to the history of Black communities in the United States. It tells the story of family and community, while commemorating a past of struggle and resilience. Through a combination of intimate text and warm illustrations, Natasha Tripplett and Daniel J. O’Brien show readers that Juneteenth is more than just a holiday, it is a cultural legacy. Their book also serves as an important reminder for all of us that Black history is American history.

Although Juneteenth is not officially celebrated in Canada, it can serve as an occasion to continue educating ourselves about Black history across North America. This book takes readers on a narrative journey beginning in 1604 with the arrival of the first known African in Canada—Mathieu Da Costa—and continues through to the fights for social justice that are still ongoing today. It includes stories of Black Canadians across all moments in history, as well as sidebars of facts, quotations, and profiles of important Black figures.

One Big Open Sky
By Lesa Cline-Ransome
Holiday House (March 2024)
Grade Level: 3–7

Award-winning author Lesa Cline-Ransome explores the underrepresented history of the Black homesteader movement and the theme of Black self-emancipation through this intergenerational novel-in-verse. Following the end of the Civil War and slavery, three women are making their way west towards Nebraska to claim their very own plot of land. Although they have recently been freed from slavery, the women are still bound by poverty, and it is their hope that this new opportunity will offer them the chance to finally claim their independence.

Featuring 37 voices, this YA anthology of Black poetry considers the question: What exactly is it to be Black in America? These poems showcase the diversity of the Black experience, while paying homage to Black culture and folklore. Classics by poets like Audre Lorde and Gwendolyn Brooks are presented alongside contemporary material from poets such as Kwame Alexander and Ibi Zoboi, showcasing the rich history of Black poetry across generations. Each poem is followed by a brief explanation to make it more accessible to readers.

Young readers can learn more about the origins of Juneteenth through this picture book. It shares the story of Emancipation Park, a park in Houston, TX, that was created to commemorate the end of slavery on June 19, 1865. Told through the voice and memory of the park itself, They Built Me for Freedom presents an ode to the courage and triumphs of Black America, while also serving as a promise to remember.

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