Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem

by Sojourner Kincaid Rolle (Author) Alex Bostic (Illustrator)

Free at Last: A Juneteenth Poem
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

This lyrical celebration of Juneteenth, deeply rooted in Black American history, spans centuries and reverberates loudly and proudly today.

After 300 years of forced bondage;

hands bound, descendants of Africa

picked up their souls--all that they owned--

leaving shackles where they fell on the ground,

headed for the nearest resting place to be found.

Deeply emotional, evocative free verse by poet and activist Sojourner Kincaid Rolle traces the solemnity and celebration of Juneteenth from its 1865 origins in Galveston, Texas to contemporary observances all over the United States. This is an ode to the strength of Black Americans and a call to remember and honor a holiday whose importance reverberates far beyond the borders of Texas.


School Library Journal

Gr 1-4--Juneteenth, an important celebration of the end of slavery, was first celebrated in Texas in 1865. This was several years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, when enslaved individuals learned of their freedom. Rolle's poem offers glimpses of the joy of freedom, the hardships of the years after, and how Juneteenth has evolved over time. Many lines directly quote the Emancipation Proclamation, such as "All who live in bondage here shall from now until be free." Spreads give more context to the meaning behind the freedom Juneteenth celebrates through depictions of formerly enslaved individuals moving forward and finally celebrating in modern times with friends and family. Some sections of the poem rhyme, and some read more like free verse. The poem has an overall lyrical feel that evokes a range of emotions, from sadness for the realities of the many hardships still faced right after emancipation, to the hope and resilience of newfound freedom. Each stanza is paired with gorgeous and warm artwork that complements the text. In the author's note, Rolle includes more of the history behind Juneteenth, which only became recognized as a national holiday in 2021. This book presents historical moments in an accessible way, through artwork and poetry. VERDICT A worthy purchase for elementary libraries needing nonfiction texts for the Juneteenth holiday.--Molly Dettman

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Kincaid Rolle and Bostic's foray into Juneteenth's history opens without preamble, centering the enslaved Black residents of Galveston, Tex., as news of freedom arrives via the Emancipation Proclamation: "ALL WHO LIVE IN BONDAGE/ HERE SHALL FROM/ NOW UNTIL/ BE FREE." Realistic oil illustrations depict portraits and landscapes in the time and place, while sometimes-rhyming text traces individual reactions: "after 300 years of forced bondage, / hands bound," some people rest, while others sing and dance, give thanks, and decide whether to stay or go elsewhere. Soon, images transition to show a contemporary America, where children "of the ones who were held.../ celebrate the day their forebears could shout/ 'FREE AT LAST!' " A largely earth-toned color palette distinguishes Bostic's art, which tenderly portrays brown-skinned characters' detailed facial expressions across environments and generations. Together, the creators emphasize the value of freedom embodied by the "symbolic holiday." A contextualizing author's note concludes. Ages 4-8. (May)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"The soulful illustrations in a muted palette align seamlessly, portraying events in a dignified, momentous style....These lyrical verses are perfect for reading out loud." — Booklist, starred review
"A noteworthy tribute to Juneteenth... A profound memorial to the suffering, strength, and stories of Black Americans." — Kirkus Reviews
"Each stanza is paired with gorgeous and warm artwork that complements the text... a worthy purchase." — School Library Journal
"This is a book that needs to be on the shelf of every library." — School Library Connection
"A largely earth-toned color palette distinguishes Bostic's art, which tenderly portrays brown-skinned characters' detailed facial expressions across environments and generations. Together, the creators emphasize the value of freedom embodied by the 'symbolic holiday.'" — Publishers Weekly
"Sojourner Kincaid Rolle powerfully articulates the history of Juneteenth" — PBS
"An honorable tribute to the legacy of the Juneteenth holiday.... In this book, illustrations are as powerful as words." — Parents
"[T]his lyrical book is a perfect read-aloud." — SheKnows
"Bostic's warm oil painting illustrations are stunning. The entire book is a work of art." — Book Riot
"Sure to become a new family favorite." — The Root
Sojourner Kincaid Rolle
Sojourner Kincaid Rolle is a poet, playwright, and an environmental educator. She was the Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, CA (2015-2017). Her book of poems for young people, The Mellow Yellow Global Umbrella, was published as an e-book and audio book by Lucky Penny Press. She lives in California.

Alex Bostic began his career as a studio artist, working in Los Angeles and New York City. He lives in Mississippi and is an associate professor of art at Mississippi State University.
Classification
Non-fiction
ISBN-13
9781454943747
Lexile Measure
920L
Guided Reading Level
N/A
Publisher
Union Square Kids
Publication date
May 20, 2022
Series
-
BISAC categories
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF042000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Poetry | General
JNF025270 - Juvenile Nonfiction | History | United States - Civil War Period
JNF026080 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Holidays & Celebrations | Other, Nonreligious
Library of Congress categories
History
African Americans
Picture books
United States
Slaves
Poetry
Texas
Social life and customs
Emancipation
Juneteenth
Anniversaries, etc

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