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Picture Book Review – Juneteenth Is

 

JUNETEENTH IS
Written by Natasha Tripplett
Illustrated by Daniel J. O’Brien
(Chronicle Kids; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

 

 

Juneteenth Is cover family sitting on front steps with Juneteenth flag.

 

 

From the first page of Juneteenth Is, when the young girl wakes up “to the smoky smell of Daddy’s slow-cooking brisket” on the barbeque outside, I knew I was in for a treat. Author Tripplett wastes no time getting the main characters on the move to grab good sidewalk seats to watch the parade. O’Brien’s digitally rendered art, imbued with emotion and movement, makes us want to reach out to grab the candy being tossed as jubilant music is played. His detailed illustrations invite careful study and Tripplett’s prose keeps the story flowing at a steady pace, much like the parade itself.

Later on, the family gathers at Granddaddy’s house in what is one of my favorite spreads. While the main character takes photos, other people are playing dominoes, and some are playing music. “Juneteenth is ladies singing in the kitchen.” There is lots of activity but everyone takes some time out to watch an informal game of basketball before heading back indoors for a prayer and a meal. A great line, “Juneteenth is generations of family recipes,” is followed by an array of hearty food including “Secret rub on finger-lickin’ chicken, juicy mouth-on-fire hot links, mac ‘n’ cheese, collard greens, potato salad …” and much more including, because what’s a celebration without tales to go with it, “… stories from the past.”

 

 

Juneteenth Is int1 Juneteenth parade.
Interior spread from Juneteenth Is written by Natasha Tripplett and illustrated by Daniel J. O’Brien, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

Juneteenth is so much more than the food and all the fun. Readers will see in this picture book’s art how in this family’s home, photographs play an important role. Not only is the little girl capturing the festivities on film she is also looking at Granddaddy’s wall of photos honoring family members past and present. “Juneteenth is the history lesson not taught in school.” He explains to his granddaughter about the hardships their enslaved ancestors endured, and about the opportunities denied them. Then came that historic day when “General Granger rode into Galveston, Texas and read the order: Slaves are free.” That day was June 19, 1865. It’s now a federal holiday.

 

Juneteenth Is int2 Juneteenth is the house getting louder.
Interior spread from Juneteenth Is written by Natasha Tripplett and illustrated by Daniel J. O’Brien, Chronicle Kids ©2024.

 

“Former slaves marched in the first Juneteenth parade.” And the marching continues every Juneteenth to celebrate that freedom as the Black community unites to reflect on the struggles and lives lost while also looking forward in hope for the future of our country and the Black community. “Juneteenth is all of us.” “We are America.” Proud, powerful words bring the book to a close but not before checking out Tripplett explanation of the significance the color red plays on the Juneteenth celebrations. Add this book to your bookshelf today to give your children a meaningful introduction to this important American holiday.

Find out more about the author, Natasha Tripplett, here.

Find out more about the illustrator, Daniel J. O’Brien, here.

 

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Middle Grade Novel Review – Remember Us

 

REMEMBER US

Written by Jacqueline Woodson

(Nancy Paulsen Books; $18.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Remember Us cover graffitied wall and basketball.

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Horn Book, Indie Next, Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal

 

In Remember Us by Jacqueline Woodson, twelve-year-old Sage and her widowed mother live in Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the house that was her father’s childhood home. She has strong connections to her firefighter father, who was killed in the line of duty. Like him, she loves basketball and dreams of playing professionally.

Sage’s tight-knit community is affected by the near-constant threat of fires breaking out all over the city during one summer in the 1970s. Homes and even lives are lost. Survivors leave, the neighborhood changes and childhood friendships shift. Some of Sage’s friends are more interested in being glamorous than in joining her, as they once did, in a game of basketball. Hardest of all is the revelation that her mother wants to leave the only home, her father’s home, that Sage has ever known.

Basketball is the only constant in her life. Freddy and his family move into the neighborhood and she finds out this kind boy loves basketball as much as she does. They become fast friends. One day, Sage experiences a traumatic event that shakes her to her core and leads to a harrowing act of destruction as she wrestles with doubts about who she is and what she wants to be.

Will she join the girls who paint their nails … or will she remain true to herself?

Using vivid and lyrical prose, Woodson draws on her Brooklyn roots and actual events to poignantly and richly capture the story’s characters and Sage’s neighborhood during a tense and fearful summer. Exquisitely written, Woodson once again explores the theme of memory and storytelling (Brown Girl Dreaming, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2014) in this spare novel of a young girl grappling with change and learning the importance of memories and the value of moving on.

Click here for a teacher’s guide.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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