Review: All Different Now by Angela Johnson

all different now

All Different Now: Juneteenth the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E. B. Lewis

Celebrate the beauty of freedom in this book dedicated to Juneteenth.  Told from the point of view of a young girl, the story is about the first Juneteenth, the day that freedom was first announced for the last of the slaves in the South.  Living in shacks on a plantation in Texas, the day is just another day for the girl and her family and the rest of the slaves.  They worked hard in the hot sun, not knowing that word of their freedom was steadily heading their way.  Then the news arrived and people reacted in different ways, but quickly they pulled their things together and left the plantation behind for freedom.  Now June 19th is celebrated as African American Emancipation Day across the United States.  It’s a joy to have such a beautiful picture book to give to children to explain Juneteenth and why it means so much.

Johnson manages somehow to show slavery in all of its bone-grinding hard work and lack of freedom but also infuse it with moments of beauty, like waking to the scent of honeysuckle.  Her words are poetry on the page, spare and important, speaking volumes in only a few phrases.  The book ends with a timeline of important events and a glossary of relevant terms, making this a very useful book as well as lovely.

Lewis’ illustrations are beautiful.  He plays with light and dark on the page, allowing the light of the hot Texas day to fill the tiny shack but also making sure that the barrenness is evident and the poverty.  The book is filled with light, the sky burned to a pale yellow.  Until darkness which has a richness and endlessness that is sumptuous.  There is such hope on these pages, almost achingly so, particularly as freedom is announced and they turn their faces to a new future.

Beautiful and timely, this book will be welcome in library collections across the country as one of the only picture books about this holiday.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.