As today marks the observance of Juneteenth (which was actually yesterday), I wanted to share my review of this wonderful children’s book about the “grandmother of Juneteenth”.
OPAL LEE AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BE FREE
AUTHOR: Alice Faye Duncan
ILLUSTRATOR: Keturah A. Bobo
GENRE: Children’s Picture Book
PUBLISHER: Thomas Nelson
RELEASE DATE: January 11, 2022
Booklist starred review
Black activist Opal Lee had a vision of Juneteenth as a holiday for everyone. This true story celebrates Black joy and inspires children to see their dreams blossom. Growing up in Texas, Opal knew the history of Juneteenth, but she soon discovered that many Americans had never heard of the holiday. Join Opal on her historic journey to recognize and celebrate “freedom for all.”
Every year, Opal looked forward to the Juneteenth picnic—a drumming, dancing, delicious party. She knew from Granddaddy Zak’s stories that Juneteenth celebrated the day the freedom news of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation finally sailed into Texas in 1865—over two years after the president had declared it! But Opal didn’t always see freedom in her Texas town. Then one Juneteenth day when Opal was twelve years old, an angry crowd burned down her brand-new home. This wasn’t freedom at all. She had to do something! But could one person’s voice make a difference? Could Opal bring about national recognition of Juneteenth? Follow Opal Lee as she fights to improve the future by honoring the past.
“Freedom is for everyone. Juneteenth is YOU and ME.”
Before I get to the story of Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free, I absolutely have to mention how sweet the illustrations are. Adults and children alike will be drawn immediately to the endearing and beautiful artwork by Keturah A. Bobo – each scene is full of life and lots of heart. There are thoughtful details on each page that complement the text and make this a book that kiddos & those who read to them will reach for time after time.
I love that there are children’s books about Juneteenth, a pivotal day in history, because this was something I didn’t learn about until adulthood. Like, embarrassingly not that long ago. Children need to know the importance of freedom & the joy that comes with it – and they need to know history so their generation can stop repeating it. Alice Faye Duncan’s lilting writing voice is delightful, and she makes Opal Lee’s story come alive, with even adult readers feeling as though they’re gathered around Great-Grand Dear’s chair under that tree, hanging on her every word.
Bottom Line: Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free weaves one woman’s inspiring story into a larger tapestry of history, freedom, and celebration. Warmth exudes from each page, thanks to the charming illustrations and almost lyrical text, and readers will close the book smarter and full of gratitude & joy. Besides the history of Juneteenth and Opal Lee’s own true story, children (and adults) learn why this Freedom Day should matter to all of us, no matter our race or nationality or freckles (lol). Highly recommended for all readers!
(I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book which I received from the publisher. All views expressed are only my honest opinion.)
My Rating: 5 stars / fantastic!
Alice Faye Duncan is a National Board Certified Teacher, who writes for young learners. Memory is her motivation. She writes to help children remember important moments from African American history. Her books are celebrated for vivid imagery and lyrical texts that sound like music. Alice’s most popular titles include A Song for Gwendolyn Brooks; Just Like a Mama; Honey Baby Sugar Child; and Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, which received a 2019 Coretta Scott King Honor Medal. Alice lives in Memphis, Tennessee, where at a young age, her mother nurtured her writing talent with prayer, poetry books, and praise. Her website is www.alicefayeduncan.com.
Keturah A. Bobo is an artist and New York Times bestselling illustrator known for creating vibrant images that are relatable and distinguishable. She is passionate about creating art that inspires, uplifts, and advocates for her community. Keturah has received notable praises for her colorful illustrative style that brings the story to life and resonates with the viewer. She graduated with a BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her family of entrepreneurs. Visit Keturah online at www.keturahariel.com.
What about you? What makes you want to read Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free by Alice Faye Duncan with a child in your life?