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 Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.