Friday, June 19, 2015

Juneteenth for Mazie by Floyd Cooper

I was pretty excited when I heard that Floyd Cooper was going to be at BEA 2015 and more excited when I found out he would be signing copies of Juneteenth for Mazie.  In fact, I was so excited that I was the first person on line.  What a nice man Floyd Cooper is, and what an incredible artist and writer.

Young Mazie feels that sometimes her life is full of the word no - no cookies before bedtime, no playing outside when it's dark, no staying up late.  When she tells her dad that she can't do what she wants, he begins to tell her that the next day is a celebratory day.  But why, Mazie wants to know.

Her dad tells it is a day called Juneteenth, a day celebrated by her family and many others because it is the day that the slaves in Texas were told they were finally free.  And for Mazie, it is the day her great-great-great-grandfather Mose became a free man.

And though there was dancing in the streets on June 19, 1865, these former slaves, like the former slaves all over the country, discovered that freedom comes with a price.  Yes, they were now paid for the work that they did, but black people weren't treated equally, they had to fight for jobs, schools, for every opportunity, but Black Americans have achieved great things, right up to the highest office in the country when Barack Obama was elected.  And so they celebrate every year on Juneteenth.  And Mazie will carry on the tradition.

Cooper's book is a great straight-forward telling of the Juneteenth story.  It is given a nice personal touch by relating it to Mazis's own family (and this will no doubt encourage young readers to ask about their family history).  Freedom is certainly something to celebrate, but unfortunatley, the history of Black American's freedom and equality is also such a rocky, rocky road, and Cooper includes that in his story, though he does end on an upbeat celebratory note.

This is an ideal book for introducing young readers to Juneteenth, a story not many kids outside of Texas may know about.  And 2015 marks the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth.  The Emanaipation Proclamation, signed by President Lincoln, went into effect in 1863, but news did not travel fast in those days and slaves and slave owners in Texas didn't hear about it until two years later, on June 19, 1865 (though in all fairness, I have to say that the reason for this delay is in contention).

As always, Cooper's story is accompanied by his beautiful oil painted illustrations, using a soft palette of browns, blues and yellows.  The illustrations both enhance and extend the story being told.

It is a shame that this year's Juneteenth celebration is marred by the horrific church shooting in Charleston, SC, but it is also a reminder of the need for books like Juneteenth to educate young readers and to help in the healing process.

You can discover more about Juneteenth, HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 6+
This book was received at BEA from the publisher, Capstone Press

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