Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth

Alice Faye Duncan, illus. by Keturah A. Bobo. Thomas Nelson, $17.99 (32p) ISBN 978-1-4002-3125-6
Duncan introduces Opal Lee (b. 1926), a Black activist and storyteller known as the “Grandmother of Juneteenth” because of her work to make Juneteenth a nationally recognized holiday, including—per back matter—her cross-country U.S. walk to collect petition signatures. The picture book’s framing features Lee telling stories “of yesteryear” to her great-grandson Buddy and a group of children with varying skin tones. Lee first relays the history of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation, then tells about Juneteenth when she was a child in the Jim Crow era, when “an angry mob with flaming sticks burned my family’s brand-new house.” Throughout, multiple refrains remind readers to “Remember my words for safekeeping. Remember what I say. Juneteenth is bigger than Texas, singing, or dancing bands. Juneteenth is freedom rising. And freedom is for everyone.” Though there are some outmoded word choices (including slave as a noun), Bobo’s art focuses on expressive figures, portrayed against largely simple backgrounds, in this paean to Juneteenth and oral tradition. Back matter includes more about Lee, a recipe for Juneteenth “Red Punch” Strawberry Lemonade, a Juneteenth timeline, and sources. Ages 4–8. (Jan.)
Reviewed on : 11/24/2021
Release date: 01/01/2022
Genre: Children's
Ebook - 32 pages - 978-1-4002-3127-0
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