The Story of Juneteenth (Book Review)

  • Author: Dorena Williamson
  • Publisher: Worthy Kids (Hachette Books)
  • Synopsis: Using simple vocabulary and a streamlined narration, Williamson describes the origins of the Juneteenth celebration.
  • Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher. Opinions expressed are my own.

Why this book is important to me

Written for young children, this book is an excellent little introduction to a significant holiday. This is the second The Story of… book I have reviewed from the publisher and both titles provided easily-understood narratives to be read aloud to children.

I think this book is very important for a few reasons. First, I am aware that Juneteenth is not a well-known/understood holiday. I originally heard about it just a few years ago and, at the time, had no idea of its historic origin. Additionally, I strongly resonate with the biblical importance of racial reconciliation, modeled through verses about God prioritizing justice for the downtrodden. I believe it is necessary to raise awareness concerning social justice issues, different cultural experiences, and the continuing negative effects of our country’s foundation on greed.

Scripture Connection

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?

Isaiah 58:6

I selected this verse because Juneteenth is a day for celebrating the end of slavery. I don’t use the verse to imply that the slave masters were doing something righteous or heroic— slavery shouldn’t have happened in the first place! But I do resonate with the emphasis on justice in this verse, tied in with the idea of a tradition. Plus, this book promotes social justice.

#OwnVoices

This is an #OwnVoices book. Author Doreen’s Williamson, illustrator Markia Jenai and historical reviewer Malcolm Foley are all African American.

Writing

Williamson’s writing is straightforward and easily comprehensible. I’m impressed with her ability to draw from a historic period and highlight the important events in just a few short sentences. This is all the more impressive, considering the depth of the concepts conveyed. Williamson tells about the origins of slavery, its role in the Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Then, she explains that the slaves in Texas didn’t learn that they were free until several years later… on Juneteenth. Something I didn’t know was that, even though freedom had already been mandated, it was then enforced when two thousands troops– black and white, came to Galveston Texas. That was when the slaves learned that they really were free.

Finally, Williamson describes, in a few brief sentences, African Americans’ “progress toward equality,” and the start of the traditional Juneteenth celebration.

Illustrations

Markia Jenai illustrated this book and I appreciate her attention to detail. For example, the first illustration is a classroom scene and features the students and teacher in the foreground, plus a full-out classroom setup in the background. The children are doing a popsicle stick craft at a table; there’s a colorful rug and cubbies, and even childish artwork on the wall.

There’s also excellent detail in the various outfits worn by the characters. Outfits come in different colors representing different cultures and time periods.

As a note, while there is nothing questionable about the art in this book, Jenai’s work is not always family-friendly.

Recommendation Status

Although there is no overt Christian content in this book, it definitely promotes diversity— in addition to being an educational resource. Recommended for young readers or as a read-aloud. This would fit in a public school or home school educational setting.

Published by Stephanie Agnes-Crockett

Hi, there! My name is Stephanie and I’m a Fresno, CA native. After studying at Biola University, I received my MLIS (Masters in Library Science) from San Jose State University. I live with my mom, poet Kimberly Vargas Agnese, and serve as her unofficial agent. We reside at MeadowArc, a food forest in its infancy. I am called to, and passionate about, purity. In fact, the name Agnes means “pure.” Before I was born, my mom felt led to include the name Agnes in her name, and in the names of her children. My full, hyphenated name includes 26 letters (but not the whole alphabet).

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