Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free

The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on BN.com Buy on Bookshop.org
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date 11 Jan 2022 | Archive Date 02 Jul 2022

Talking about this book? Use #OpalLeeandWhatItMeanstoBeFree #NetGalley. More hashtag tips!


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.

Through the story of Opal Lee's determination and persistence, children ages 4 to 8 will learn:

  • all people are created equal
  • the power of bravery and using your voice for change
  • the history of Juneteenth, or Freedom Day, and what it means today
  • no one is free unless everyone is free
  • fighting for a dream is worth the difficulty experienced along the way

Featuring the illustrations of New York Times bestselling illustrator Keturah A. Bobo (I am Enough), Opal Lee and What It Means to Be Free by Alice Faye Duncan celebrates the life and legacy of a modern-day Black leader while sharing a message of hope, unity, joy, and strength.

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...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781400231256
PRICE $17.99 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (PDF)

Average rating from 38 members

Featured Reviews

This beautifully illustrated book explains the important history of Juneteenth in a way children can understand and relate to. It was perfect.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.

Was this review helpful?

Opale Lee is the grandmother of Juneteenth. She was born in Texas in 1926 and led a movement to make Juneteenth a national holiday. She had said that if we don't remember what we have been through, our nation is doomed to repeat it. This book for children and their parents bring the past, present and future together. There is a timeline of Juneteenth and what led up to that historical time in our history. Texas had made Juneteenth a State holiday on January 1, 1980. It is a reminder of freedom for all Americans.

A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and Netgalley for the ARC and the opportunity to post an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

Beautifully illustrated and pitch perfect for a picture book. A success on every level--from the prose to the illustrations to the subject matter to the up to date information at the end. A perfect introduction to Juneteenth.

Was this review helpful?

Such an important storybook for kids and beginners!

This is just the book we need to read to kids to let them think about the importance of knowing important days and our background; remember the people who have struggled and made things possible for us to live with equal opportunities.

The artstyle is just amazing and so apt for such contents.
However, the presentation of the writing can be better with a different font style easy to the eyes for the reading age group.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson: Children's and the author/artist, for the advance reading copy.

Was this review helpful?

I loved this book! Not only is the writing fantastic, but the story is important. I can't believe I didn't know thr origins of Juneteenth until now. These are the types of books we need in our schools and libraries, teaching our kids about all facets of America's history.

Was this review helpful?

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how Juneteenth came to be - slavery in Texas, the slow-speed of the news of the Emancipation Proclamation traveling, and the arrival of this news. It tells the story through Opal Lee's perspective and shows how the meaning of this day evolved throughout the years since. This serves a great intro to this important day for kids!

Was this review helpful?

A great little intro to both segregation and Juneteenth, appropriate for the age group but not shying away from its impact. It also shifts the focus to personal impact through the eyes of a child

Was this review helpful?

Lovely book about the history of Juneteenth, along with the significance to American history. We’ll illustrated in colorful and large spreads, that highlight the red foods, the variety of skin colors of African American people and how we are not free until we are ALL free. Highly recommend! #OpalLeeandWhatItMeanstoBeFree #NetGalley #SchoolLibraryLife #AskCurateShare #ThakkarsThinkers

Was this review helpful?

I thought that this book was wonderful.

The illustrations are beautiful and they really bring the book to life. The book was easy to follow and it really explains the history of Juneteenth in a way children can understand and relate to as well as explaining why it got that as a particular name too.

It was all done very well indeed and I can see that this book will be a firm hit for school children and could easily, and should easily be found on the bookshelves in all schools.

It is 5 stars from me for this one, a great way to bring the past to life and explain more about what others went through - very highly recommended!

Was this review helpful?

A short, easy to read and beautifully illustrated, child-friendly book that tells Opal Lee’s story and the history of “Juneteenth” (which I had never heard of!). It’s story of slavery, emancipation and black activism.

It will be a great conversation starter and a valuable part of classrooms & libraries.

Was this review helpful?

A big thank-you to NetGalley, the author, and publisher for giving me a copy of this book for an unbiased review.

3/5 - Liked it.

Juneteenth is a critical part of U.S. history and I am really excited that it is now a national holiday, with books being written about it. I really enjoyed the concept of this book, which honors Opal Lee and recounts the many ways that African American people have had to fight for their freedom. There are two reasons my rating is not higher - I felt that the writing could have been less oversimplified, and also that there could have been some emphasis on the quote used in Opal Lee's biography at the end of the book: "None of us are free until we're all free, and we aren't free yet." The way the book was formatted gave the impression that Juneteenth was a celebration of a completed fight for freedom - which as a person growing up white in the U.S. was always my impression because of the way history is taught through classrooms and books. While I love the celebratory tone of this book, I think mentioning that the fight isn't over would have been a great educational moment.

That being said, I think this is an important book and literature like this should be in libraries and classrooms everywhere. And I really liked the refrain of "Freedom, hope, and joy divine! Juneteenth means it's Freedom Time!"

Was this review helpful?

Do you know the story of Juneteenth? Do you work with or have children? This book tells an important and inspiring story and I highly recommend that you share it with kids that you know.

First off, what was Juneteenth? It was the date upon which some in Texas learned about Emancipation. Was this found out in a timely manner? Read this story of the holiday to find out.

Opal Lee can and should be an inspiration to all of us. From childhood, she had awareness and a desire to work for what was right.

This beautifully illustrated story tells Opal Lee’s biography and the history of the holiday in a way that kids can understand. Share this one with someone…or many someones…and then talk about it and our country’s history and hopes. It might be a very important conversation.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Was this review helpful?

A huge thanks to Thomas Nelson for the complimentary copy . All opinions expressed are my own.

This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of how Juneteenth came to be and tells the story of Black activist Opal Lee.. The picture book’s is laid out in a way that Opal is the one telling her story to her great-grandson Buddy and a group of children where she tells them the history of slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation, then tells about Juneteenth when she was a child in the Jim Crow era, I enjoyed this book and found it eye opening . Read it and absorb it! Everyone should read this book.

Was this review helpful?

This picture book briefly introduces the history of Juneteenth, emphasizing the ways that Opal Lee advocated for its adoption as a holiday. The book has great illustrations and easy-to-read writing, and I appreciate the emphasis on family bonds and celebrating together. The book's framing device of a celebration helps contextualize the heavy topic for kids, and the book ends on a hopeful note.

The reason why I am only giving this book three stars is because it does not explain the Emancipation Proclamation in relation to the Civil War. Although I understand the desire to simplify complex history for kids, this book doesn't mention the Civil War until the historical notes at the end, and it seems both strange and potentially confusing to young readers. This book makes it seem like Abraham Lincoln just woke up one day and decided to free everyone, and even though I wouldn't expect a picture book for children to address all of the surrounding legal and social context for this document, it disappointed me that the author sidestepped the war entirely when it is central to the true story.

This picture book provides a child-level explanation of slavery and the creation of the Juneteenth holiday, but because it doesn't address the Civil War, the book profoundly oversimplifies the Emancipation Proclamation and leaves confusing gaps in knowledge related to why it took so long for the enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, to know that they were free. Although this book celebrates Opal Lee's activism and provides an adequate explanation of Junteenth for young children, parents and educators who want to provide a full historical explanation of Junteenth should use this as supplementary material.

Was this review helpful?

An interesting insight into her story and the origins of Juneteenth. An important addition to any library’s holiday and history collections.

Was this review helpful?

This is a beautifully illustrated children's book with a great,historical basis. My children really enjoyed this story and we thought it was a great book!

Was this review helpful?

Interesting premise which I haven't seen before. I recommend for those wanting to study history deeper, especially this time period.

Was this review helpful?

Gosh, I loved this! The pictures were awesome. The story is inspiring and so important to hear. I hope people not only borrow this from libraries but also buy it for their home libraries.

Was this review helpful?

This is a wonderful book to introduce children to ideas of slavery and the fight against racism. I loved the illustrations but at times the writing felt a little stilted. Overall I would recommend this book for young readers, especially if reading with an adult as it's a good conversation starter.

Was this review helpful?

The beautiful illustrations and important story go on to provide more information about Juneteenth and the annual celebrations of this historic day. As the celebration of Juneteenth has become more mainstream, books like this are necessary to ensure that we don't forget this part of our history. In fact, as an educator and librarian, I was uninformed until now about the role Opal Lee took in creating a national holiday for Juneteenth.

Based on the title, I expected this to be a biography. However, this is a non-fiction account of Juneteenth as told to modern day children by Opal Lee. Only at the end did the reader learn more about Opal Lee and who she was. I think this will do well as a non-fiction account, but I would have liked to delve into the life of Opal Lee from the beginning and am hopeful that more biographies will do her justice as well.

Was this review helpful?

The story here was fantastic, and there is so much pride in the cover! It's a fantastic story. I didn't care much for the art, as I felt it wasn't as professional or polished as the text should dictate. Colors were bright, which is good, but the smoothing of lines wasn't working.

Was this review helpful?

Picture books are a great way to explain a concept or a bit of history to a young audience. In the case of this book, Duncan is doing more than just explaining the history of Juneteenth to the audience. While the exact bit of history that the holiday recognizes is certainly a part of the story, the larger part of the book is focused on Opal Lee herself and exploring the experience of freedom. It looks at protest and social movement, the efforts people go through to have struggle and history recognized. In that way Juneteenth becomes more than an historical event. It's a symbol of the desire for social change. This book that will grow with young readers, reaching them at different levels as their social awareness changes.

Was this review helpful?

PIctures depicting children of many beautiful shades of brown gather around an aged Opal Lee to hear the story that she was told about Juneteenth. Informative backmatter and recommended sources for further discussion.'
VERDICT: a must-have addition for libraries that serve children

Was this review helpful?

Freedom, hope, and joy divine. Juneteenth means it's freedom time! This rendering of Opal Lee's Juneteenth story is an inspiring historical account of how the nation came to observe the day American slaves were freed. The celebration of freedom is presented with the genuine jubilation of generations of families. This nonfiction story gives credence to the years-long push of Ms. Opal Lee--individually and personally--'to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. Great read. Keep it on your shelves.

Was this review helpful?

A lyrical, fabulous book that brings the history and meaning of Juneteenth alive for everyone; young and old. The thirst-quenching recipe can make for a nice sip and savor during story time. The timeline puts the story in context for readers. The biography provides a short insight into the history of an amazing woman. Sources at the end provide books and websites for further reading and research. The text itself is full of simile and metaphor. Opal Lee shines like Lady Liberty as she shares a message of a better hope for our future. Excellent and unbiased. A copy of this belongs in every school library.

Was this review helpful?

Readers who liked this book also liked: