The author begins her story by showing, on one side of the 2-page spread, the future Supreme Court Justice, born in 1933, as a disputatious young girl. On the other, we see her as a much older disputatious justice. She writes:
“You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been . . . one disagreement after another.
This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life – and ours.”
She then takes us through Ruth’s childhood in Brooklyn, New York, in a neighborhood full of immigrants, who, while different in some ways, in one way were the same: boys were expected to grow up to do big things, and women were expected to find husbands.
Ruth’s mother disagreed, and took her to the library where she discovered stories of female heroes.
But Ruth had another obstacle to overcome: whenever they left the city, they encountered signs barring entrance to Jews (as she was), blacks, Mexicans, etc. As the author wrote: “She never forgot the sting of prejudice.”
Ruth objected to prejudice of any kind, and to the other injustices she encountered in school. She was told not to write with her left hand, even though she was left-handed. She was made to learn sewing and cooking in school, while boys got to take shop and work with tools. She wanted to sing, but her teacher said she could not carry a tune. In all of these areas, Ruth protested whenever she could.
At college, she met Marty Ginsburg, who agreed that Ruth should have the opportunity to go to law school, and eventually they married. At law school, Ruth was one of only nine women in a group of 500 men. But she tied for first place in the class.
Nonetheless, after graduation, no one would hire her. Men did not want to work with a woman [not to mention, one probably smarter than any of them]; she was a mother (law firms thought that would distract her); and she was Jewish, at a time when many firms didn’t hire Jews. Finally a judge hired her, and then she became a law professor.
Ruth also went to the Supreme Court to advocate for rights for women, arguing her first case in 1973. The author writes:
“Ruth did not win every case, but she won enough. With each victory, women and men and girls and boys enjoyed a little more equality.”
In 1993, she was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton, becoming the second woman ever, after Sandra Day O’Connor, to serve on that body, and the first Jewish woman ever to be appointed to the Court. She began to wear two different collars over her robes: one when she agreed with the Court’s decision, and a different one when she dissented.
The author (who, it should be noted, formerly practiced law) reports that now Justice Ginsburg is the oldest member of the Court. “Some people have said she should quit because of her age. Justice Ginsburg begs to differ.”
Throughout the book, large words are depicted over the text that illustrate the theme the author has made central to Ginsburg’s life: “I disagree!” “I object!” “I beg to differ!” “I do not concur!”
In an Afterword, the author provides additional details about Ginsburg’s life, and about the sociopolitical context in which she grew up. She also includes references to some of the cases Ginsburg argued before the Court as a lawyer, and some of the cases on which she made an impact while she has been serving as Supreme Court Justice. In addition, there is a bibliography and a list of sources.
The illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley are made with pencil, ink and watercolor, employing an entertaining “comic book” style that will appeal to kids.
Evaluation: The author said in an interview that the story of the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (RBG) offers the inspiring lesson that “[d]isagreeing [especially if you are a girl] does not make you disagreeable, and important change happens one disagreement at a time.” Standing up for what is right is a great lesson to impart to children. At the same time, she notes, “simply disagreeing without more isn’t really enough if you want to change your life or anyone else’s.” So on the back of the book, she includes a quote from RBG: “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2016