Saturday, June 18, 2016

Happy Birthday, Angela Johnson - June 18

Happy Birthday, Angela Johnson - June 18

Over the years, I developed a misunderstanding about when and how slavery ended in America. I could blame my school for not addressing it or a teacher for not teaching it or myself for not learning it. You see before I read Angela Johnson's All Different Now I had never heard of Juneteenth. I did not know its significance. But, I do now and I have a much better understanding thanks to a picture book, a great city, and an amazing author.

Angela Johnson writes for a variety of readers. She has published over 40 books including When I am Old with YouJust Like Josh Gibson, and two books illustrated by Loren Long, I Dream of Trains and Wind Flyers. Additionally, three of her chapter books for older children The First Part Last (2004), Heaven (1999), and Toning the Sweep (1994) received Coretta Scott King Awards. She described her experience writing for children with The Brown Bookshelf, "I did not think it was odd to want to write poetry, picture books, middle readers, novels and board books and short stories. No one told me I couldn't -- so I did."

Before she was a writer Angela Johnson was a reader. Her family loved to read so much that her father made a rule that no books were allowed during meal time. One of her teachers read Harriet the Spy to her in elementary school which inspired her to ask her parents for a diary so she could write. (Ohioana Authors)

Angela Johnson attended Kent State University to become a teacher, but decided to leave school to pursue writing. To support herself she was a child development worker and a nanny. One of the children she took care of was the son of Cynthia Rylant. Cynthia Rylant, who also has a June birthday, learned that Johnson was writing and asked if she could read some of her work. It took some time, but Angela got the courage to share. Cynthia Rylant thought her writing was good enough to be shared with her editor.  Angela Johnson described the experience, "Soon after that she informed me of what she had done. I was shocked, but shocked even more when her editor called me a couple of months later to tell me he'd like to publish the story as a picture book." (The Brown Bookshelf).  Her first book was Tell Me a Story Mama which was published in 1989 and later in 1991 Johnson received the Ezra Jack Keats New Writer Award for the book.

In 1992, Angela Johnson was described by Rudine Sims Bishop as "one of the most prominent African-American literary artists of the next generation" (The ALAN Review). Now, almost 25 years later, Angela Johnson continues to write and inspire others with her literary art, but also assists writers and students at Kent State University as a writer-in-residence. Her latest picture book is All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom, illustrated by E.B. Lewis.

All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom is a story about a day that starts the same as all the others. A day people feel the same as they did the day before. However, on this day everything will be different before its over. On this day, June 19, 1865, in Texas, Major General Gordon Granger made an announcement from a balcony in Galveston.  The news spread to the fields. It was news that would make things different. It was news that came to Texas two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and almost six months after the 13th amendment was enacted. It was news that they were free. The last slaves in America would be living a life that would be all different now.

My family was given All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom as a gift. (I love getting picture books as gifts!) For this reason it was the first book I chose to read in my preparation for our author birthday celebration. It immediately struck me that Angela Johnson's birthday was so close to Juneteenth (June 19, 1865) and I wondered if there was a way to learn more about this important day in American history.

I discovered that the city of Oberlin, Ohio was holding a Juneteenth celebration and it happened to be on Angela Johnson's birthday! For years the city of Oberlin has been celebrating Juneteenth with a festival, a parade, activities, and togetherness. The citizens of Oberlin are proud of their city's history. Their city was a key part of the Underground Railroad and the route to freedom, their citizens sacrificed their lives to stand up for the freedom for all, and their college has welcomed all people, regardless of their background to learn with them since 1835. This seemed like the perfect place to learn more about Juneteenth.

Oberlin, Ohio was an important city in the fight to end slavery.
"Juneteenth has morphed into a more national symbolic celebration of respect for all cultures." (Angela Johnson, All Different Now, Afterword)
Our first activity at the Juneteenth celebration was to ride a trolley.
On the trolley, we learned about how african-american builders influenced architecture in America.  
It was a beautiful day for a trolley ride in the city.
A fun and educational activity for all ages.

In the city square there was music, food, and many vendors. There was lots to hear, smell, and see! The ribs smelled so good!
The Oberlin Public Library had a table at the festival. I was happy to find All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom on display!
There was cornhole and many other games for my kids,
And a parade at noon!
Abraham Lincoln was there too! 
My kids were happy to get candy from the historic Oberlin Juneteenth clown. 
Thank you, Angela Johnson and Oberlin, Ohio for teaching my family all about the importance of Juneteenth.
1. Angela Johnson's Website
2. Biography - Ohioana Authors
3. Interview - The Brown Bookshelf, The ALAN review, CCBC
4. A Curriculum Guide to ALL DIFFERENT NOW - CFmedia
6. Juneteenth Oberlin, Ohio - Website, Video (2014)

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