Opal Lee and What it Means to be Free: The True Story of the Grandmother of Juneteenth by Alice Faye Duncan is a beautiful blend of the history of Juneteenth and a biography of Opal Lee’s life. The story opens up with a wonderful picnic scene where the children gather around to hear two different stories that intertwine the importance of Juneteenth. First, they hear about the history of Juneteenth, and how the state of Texas was the last place to hear the news of the Emancipation Proclamation. Second, they hear about Opal Lee’s childhood, and experiences on Juneteenth. She has good memories of Juneteenth celebrations, except for, the year 1939, when an angry mob burned down her family’s brand-new house. She later said, “I learned a big lesson that Juneteenth Day. Freedom is a golden coin. Struggle makes it shine.” The story ends with Opal Lee watching the next generation enjoy Juneteenth and marveling at their bright future.
Why I love this book:
Alice Faye Duncan did a beatiful job of blending two stories togther into one book. Her descriptive words and first person narration allow readers to feel like they are apart of the celebration. The illustrations by Keturah A. Bobo stunningly capture the excitment. and sometimes pain that accouraded throughout the story.
The Back matter includes a Juneteenth timeline, Author’s Note, list of sources, and a recipe for “Juneteenth Red Punch Strawberry Lemonade,” often served at Juneteenth celebrations. I also love that a sourc page is included in the back of the book.
A truly wonderful historical narrative!