When you gaze at the quilted cover of A Flag for Juneteenth, you will want to reach out and touch it. The artwork depicts a girl wearing a fuchsia dress and kerchief standing proudly in front of a flag, the bright colors of her outfit vibrant against the flag’s soft yellows and greens. The girl’s brown face has no features—nor do the faces of any of the book’s characters—because author-illustrator Kim Taylor wants readers to be able to imagine themselves in this story.
Then you open A Flag for Juneteenth and discover that Taylor quilted all of the illustrations in her debut picture book, and you realize that her textile art perfectly complements her evocative prose, creating an excellent portrayal of Huldah, a Black girl living with her enslaved family on a Texas plantation in 1865.
As the book opens, it’s the morning of Huldah’s 10th birthday. Taylor’s embroidering transforms mottled brown fabrics into textured tea cakes, a special treat baked by Huldah’s mother for her daughter’s birthday. “The scent of nutmeg and vanilla floated through our cabin,” Taylor writes, and her stitched text forms a winding ribbon of words that waft up from the plate as Huldah breathes in the sweet smell.
Soon, Huldah hears the “loud clip-clippity-clop of heavy horses’ hooves” as soldiers ride onto the plantation. She witnesses their historic announcement: President Abraham Lincoln has freed all enslaved people! Taylor emphasizes the importance of this declaration by placing a lone soldier onto a white quilted background. She embroiders the proclamation that he reads “in a booming voice,” forming four lines of text that radiate from his figure.
Elation follows, and Huldah hears shouting and singing. Images of celebration feature the outlines of surprised, ecstatic people jumping and raising their hands in the air for joy. Taylor sets their multicolor silhouettes against gentle yellow-orange ombre fabric that’s quilted with sunburst lines, as though the people have been caught up in rays of light.
Huldah watches as a group of women begins to sew freedom flags. Children gather branches to use as flagpoles, but Huldah goes one step further. She climbs her favorite tree and captures a sunbeam in a glass jar, preserving this extraordinary moment in time forever.
Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, and A Flag for Juneteenth exquisitely conveys the day’s spirit of jubilation and freedom.