You Are a Star, Ruth Bad­er Ginsburg

Dean Rob­bins, Sarah Green (Illus­tra­tor)

  • Review
By – May 11, 2022

There are many children’s and young adult books about Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg, the late Supreme Court Jus­tice whose sta­tus as an icon has only increased since her death. Dean Rob­bins and Sarah Green have cho­sen a spe­cif­ic approach in their pic­ture-book biog­ra­phy of Gins­burg, the Jew­ish woman who worked tire­less­ly to advance equal­i­ty under the law for all Amer­i­cans. Con­dens­ing the most impor­tant events and influ­ences in Ginsburg’s life, and pre­sent­ing them through first-per­son nar­ra­tion and dra­mat­ic pic­tures, Rob­bins and Green have designed an acces­si­ble for­mat for young Gins­burg fans.

Each sec­tion of the book pack­ages a spe­cif­ic com­part­ment of Ginsburg’s life and lega­cy. The sec­tion titles are intrigu­ing, invit­ing curios­i­ty about what each con­tains. The Land of the Free” is not an intro­duc­tion to our nation­al anthem but rather a glimpse into the legal pro­fes­sion and to the Con­sti­tu­tion that frames its objec­tives. Sto­ries in Song” begins with the love of opera shared by Gins­burg and her hus­band, Mar­ty, but expands to the way in which their mar­riage became an equal part­ner­ship unusu­al for its era. In Women Keep Out,” Gins­burg pos­es the provoca­tive ques­tion, Would you believe that my school even banned women from the library?” Of course, many read­ers will be sur­prised by that fact, their reac­tion itself a tes­ti­mo­ny to Ginsburg’s relent­less activism against discrimination.

From the cov­er to the last page, a core theme is auton­o­my. The young Ruth Bad­er was aware of injus­tice from a young age, con­vinced that she could play a role in com­bat­ing it. Her Brook­lyn child­hood was enriched by a love of books, but also by phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and fun. Ruth learned that her gen­der would some­times present an obsta­cle to accep­tance, but she refused to accept this lim­i­ta­tion: But do you know what I hat­ed about grow­ing up? I was always treat­ed dif­fer­ent­ly than the boys … We’ll see about that!” She cer­tain­ly did not accept defeat; Rob­bins is focused on dis­till­ing this cru­cial aspect of her atti­tude so that chil­dren will under­stand its pow­er. Each sen­tence is care­ful­ly craft­ed to ensure appre­ci­a­tion of the bar­ri­ers that Gins­burg faced and her deter­mi­na­tion to over­come them.

Sarah Green’s illus­tra­tions progress with the feel­ing of a fam­i­ly album, depict­ing Gins­burg from child­hood to old age. They are dynam­ic, offer­ing a sequence of mile­stones ded­i­cat­ed toward one goal but also includ­ing the ordi­nary activ­i­ties essen­tial to a rich and full life. Gins­burg is an avid stu­dent, an enthu­si­as­tic dancer, a lov­ing wife, and a ded­i­cat­ed moth­er. A baf­fled Ruth looks down at her failed tuna casse­role while her hus­band Mar­ty laughs ami­ably. An impas­sioned advo­cate for women’s rights, she argues in front of the Supreme Court for the first time in 1973, wear­ing her mother’s jew­el­ry. Vary­ing the length of her hair, the turn of her mouth, and the increas­ing lines on her face, Green con­verts Gins­burg the super­star into Gins­burg the human being. Her devo­tion to fam­i­ly, career, and the Amer­i­can peo­ple seems a nat­ur­al and viable choice in this appeal­ing children’s book.

The book includes an author’s note, a time­line, a glos­sary, and lists of addi­tion­al resources.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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