All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom

Book review by
Regan McMahon, Common Sense Media
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom Book Poster Image
Sensitive imagining of day slaves learned they were free.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story sticks to emotions rather than historical facts, but the art conveys a bit about slaves' lives on a cotton plantation, and back matter is loaded with information that amplifies the simple, atmospheric story. In an author's note, Angela Johnson reveals that her great-grandparents were slaves and explains the meaning of Juneteenth: On June 19, 1865, Texas -- the story is set near Galveston -- finally decreed that its slaves were free, even though President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation Jan. 1, 1863. Many slaves living in states that were not in the Union did not know they'd been declared free. Readers learn that more than 40 states recognize Juneteenth in some way. There's a glossary of terms and a timeline from Jan. 1, 1863, to Dec. 6, 1865, when the Thirteenth Amendment abolishing slavery was ratified.

Positive Messages

Coveys the joy and relief of being free. Shows the power of being with friends and family at an emotional time when you don't know exactly what the future will hold. Clearly implies that slavery is unjust and immoral. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

The little girl is thoughtful, and her mother holds her close as she processes the news. All the adults seem strong, loving, and caring. The Union general, seen only at a distance, delivers an important message that slaves are now free. 

Violence & Scariness

No violence in the story, but the backdrop is war and the dehumanizing institution of slavery.


What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Angela Johnson's All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom imagines the day slaves working in a Texas cotton field learned that an end to slavery had been decreed. It was June 19, 1865, a day now commemorated in more than 40 states as Juneteenth. The story is told through the eyes of a young girl slave, and illustrator E.B.Lewis' gorgeous watercolors capture the changing emotions of kids and adults before and after receiving the news. All Different Now provides a sensitive way to kick off a discussion of slavery and how the Union's victory in the Civil War ended it.

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What's the story?

A little girl recalls the day everything changed. She awakes, eats breakfast in the cabin on a Texas plantation, and goes out to pick cotton while "word spread from the port, to town, through the countryside, and into the fields" that a Union general had announced that slaves were now free "and things would be all different now." She observes the reactions of the adults as they hear the news -- some sing, some cry, some bow their heads and whisper. Then she and her family have an afternoon picnic on the beach and are joined by other newly freed folk, and they all eat, laugh, and tell stories "as free people on into the night." They return to their cabin to sleep and in the morning load up wagons and leave.

Is it any good?

The gentle, spare text and E.B. Lewis' stunning watercolors keep the focus intimate and the mood quiet and wondrous, as the girl and those around her take their first cautious steps of freedom. ALL DIFFERENT NOW: JUNETEENTH, THE FIRST DAY OF FREEDOM imagines what it might have been like for slaves working on a cotton plantation in Texas to learn that slavery had officially ended, and it imagines that moment through the eyes of a child.

This beautiful picture book could trigger discussions about why slavery lasted as long as it did, how the Civil War brought an end to it, and what it must have felt like to be granted freedom after so many years of hardship and captivity. An author's note, an illustrator's note, a glossary of terms, and a time line give more historical context and information. There's also an explanation of Juneteenth (June 19), which commemorates the day Texas finally decreed its slaves free after the Confederacy lost the war -- two and a half years after President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Juneteenth. Have you heard of it? Are there Juneteenth celebrations where you live? Do you understand why people remember it as a special day? 

  • How do the pictures help tell the story? What's your favorite picture in All Different Now, and why? 

  • How does All Different Now help you understand what the end of the Civil War meant for American slaves? 

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