Celebrate Juneteenth, Black History and Authors with Reading Lists for Every Grade Level

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A young boy reading a book on the floor

One of the best ways for kids and their families to learn more about Juneteenth is to read books. There are plenty of books about Juneteenth, Black history, and books by Black authors to choose from, ranging across all reading levels. 

What is Juneteenth?

Historically, Juneteenth, which was made a national holiday in 2021, recognizes the day that the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Galveston, Texas, where more than 250,000 people finally learned of their freedom nearly three years after slavery had been made illegal in the United States. 

Black History and Juneteenth Books for kids

Reading is good for kids. Not only does it help them learn and explore the world, it can improve their mental health. That’s why all books are such a great resource. 

Here are some of our favorite Black history, authors, and Juneteenth books for kids for different grade levels. Feel free to use them for a Juneteenth reading list or as part of a fun summer reading challenge.

Grades K–2

Whether your child is an independent reader, or you plan to do Juneteenth read-alouds, these are some great African American children books written for Kindergarten through 2nd graders.

  • Knockin’ On Wood, by Lynne Barasch: Based on the life of the famous Black tap dancer Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, this book tells a story as entertaining as it is educational.
  • Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History, by Vashti Harrison: A celebration of Black women, this beautifully illustrated book tells the stories of Black women who have helped shape the nation and world.
  • Mae Among the Stars, by Roda Ahmed: This book shares the true story of a little girl who dreams of going to space—and whose intelligence and hard work lead her to NASA where she becomes the first African American woman to travel into space.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr., A Peaceful Leader, by Sarah Albee: Focused on the most important moments in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, this book celebrates King’s achievements and his commitment to peaceful protest. 
  • Up the Learning Tree, by Marcia Vaughan: Set in the American South before the Civil War, this book follows an enslaved child whose desire to learn overcomes the rules against his education.

Grades 3–5

As children grow a little older, they can handle more complex stories and themes. These African American children’s books are perfect for kids in the latter-half of elementary school.

  • George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, by Gaylia Taylor: Kids love potato chips. And this book tells the engaging story of how a Black American invented them.

  • The Kidnapped Prince: The Life of Olaudah Equiano, by Olaudah Equiano: As an 18th century autobiography that’s been adapted for modern young readers, this book tells the true story of an African prince who was kidnapped and forced into slavery—and how he found his freedom.

  • Life Doesn't Frighten Me, by Maya Angelou: Combining Angelou’s poetry with illustrations by renowned modern artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, this book looks at the scary things in a child’s life as a way to celebrate courage.

  • One Crazy Summer, by Rita Williams-Garcia: Set in 1968, this book tells the story of three sisters whose mother sends them to a summer camp run by the Black Panthers. 

  • Step Right Up, by Donna Janell Bowman: This book follows the remarkable true story of a formerly enslaved man who teaches himself to be a veterinarian and uses kindness to train a horse to perform feats of writing and mathematics.

Grades 6-8

By middle school, most children have left picture books behind and enjoy reading longer stories with fewer images. 

  • All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds: Centered on a violent act that divides a community, this book tells the story of two teenage boys—one Black and one White—and the ways they deal with the aftermath of violence.

  • Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, by Philip Hoose: This book tells the true but often forgotten story of a Black teenager who refused to give up her seat at the front of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus nine months before Rosa Parks did the same.

  • The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas: This highly decorated novel tells the story of a Black teenage girl who lives in a poor neighborhood but attends a fancy prep school.

  • The Stars Beneath Our Feet, by David Barclay Moore: Considered a modern classic, this novel tells the story of an African-American boy in Harlem dealing with the death of his brother. 

  • Victory Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice, by Tommie Smith: This autobiography tells the story of the Olympic gold medalist who famously protested racial injustice by raising his fist in the Black power salute at the1968 games.

Grades 9-12

Most high schoolers can easily read African-American and Juneteenth books for all ages, but some books are more likely to appeal to that age group than others. Here are a few Black history and authors you can suggest to your high schooler.

  • Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America, by Gilbert King: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this nonfiction book focuses on Thurgood Marshall’s defense of four Black teenage boys who were falsely accused of rape and sentenced to death.
  • Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly: This book tells the true story of the Black women mathematicians who were instrumental in making the U.S. space program a success.
  • Passage: A Novel, by Khary Lazarre-White: Set in 1993, this novel tells the story of a young Black man living in New York City who is forced to confront both the natural and supernatural world around him.
  • Their Eyes Are Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston: Considered one of the definitive works of the 20th century, this novel is a Southern love story featuring a strong, Black female protagonist.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabel Wilkerson: This nonfiction book tells the stories of three Black Americans who left the South between 1915-1970 and headed to the North in search of better opportunity and less injustice.

Other Ways to Celebrate Juneteenth

Reading a book is just one way you and your child can recognize and celebrate Black history, authors, and Juneteenth. There are a number of other ways to celebrate. You could:

  • Watch a documentary about the Black experience in America.
  • Watch a movie that tells a story about Black Americans and their lives.
  • Virtually explore the exhibitions of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian.
  • Learn about African American inventors and see how many of their inventions your family uses.
  • Listen to a TED Talk or another podcast focused on Juneteenth.
  • Attend an African American cultural festival in your area.
  • Listen to African American musical artists.

Whatever way you and your child choose to recognize Juneteenth, remember to model curiosity and open-mindedness. This will help your child get more out of whatever you do or read. If you want to make reading a regular part of your child’s day, take a look at our article 3 Simple Tips for Choosing Age-Appropriate Children’s Books.

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