Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Thursday, January 25, 2018

She Never Gives Up

There will be times when reading a picture book biography when you feel your admiration for the individual growing page by page.  You can't help but speculate on the strength of character necessary for this person to continue pursuing their life's goals.  In the face of continuous adversity, what inspires this person to endure and persevere?

As you read the final sentence on the final page, a hope grows inside you.  Unlike most of the biographies you read, this amazing person is still alive.  However remote the possibility, you long for the opportunity to meet them.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R. B. G. vs. Inequality (Abrams Books for Young Readers, August 8, 2017) written by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Stacy Innerst will embolden readers to pursue their life's ambitions with the same intention.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury:  During this trial, you will learn about a little girl who had no clue just how important she would become.

Step by step, incident by incident, beginning with her birth in 1933 Ruth Bader Ginsburg forged ahead against the status quo, what was expected and accepted.  Her parents, Jewish, came from families leaving Europe due to persecution for their religious beliefs.  Her father never finished high school.  Her mother graduated from high school by the time she was fifteen but went to work supporting a brother's college education.  She continued saving every single cent she made after marriage so her daughter could go to college.

Growing up in a home in Brooklyn, New York, with books and a mother who supported weekly trips to the public library, Ruth knew the opportunities the world offered.  She also knew its cruelty in the form of anti-Semitism.  In school Ruth pursued many interests but at an early age her interest in the laws governing our United States was apparent.  Sadness descended on Ruth though on her high school graduation day.  Her beloved mother passed away.

Having earned a scholarship, Ruth went to Cornell University.  In 1950 Ruth and other women were outnumbered by male students, four to one.  To be seen as knowledgeable was detrimental for young women.  She hid and studied.  She also met a young man who admired knowledgeable young women.  His name was Martin Ginsburg.

Despite discouragement, even from her father and against the existing norms of the time, Ruth went to law school (after marrying Martin).  Did you know that at Harvard Law School, at that time, Ruth was not allowed to use the periodical room because she was a woman?  Did you know that as the only woman in a lecture hall, Ruth endured ridicule by professors because she was a woman?  She (and other women) always answered the questions correctly;

. . . she had to, she was representing all women.

Time and time again, Ruth did the work of three people to accomplish her goals.  Time and time again Ruth met with extreme prejudice.  Did you know that she was turned down by law firms because she was a woman, she was Jewish and she was a mother?  With the 1970s came the age of women starting to have their say.  Not one to be openly protesting Ruth fought for the rights of women in her own style, through the law.

Decade after decade her voice was heard as the person in charge of the ACLU Women's Rights Project, as an appointed judge in the U. S. Court of Appeals (appointed by President Jimmy Carter) and as a member of the United States Supreme Court (appointed by President Bill Clinton).  She was sixty years old.  Her dissents in serving on the Supreme Court are legendary.  Today at the age of eighty-four Ruth Bader Ginsburg is still a member of the United States Supreme Court, a voice for those who need it the most.

The writing of Jonah Winter captivates readers immediately.  You can feel a tension (and suspense) building as Ruth Bader Ginsburg encounters obstacle after obstacle but does not halt her pursuits.  Each time you find yourself inwardly cheering for this woman, applauding her achievements and expressing gratitude for her sense of purpose.  The technique of presenting her life as a case is brilliant.

Jonah Winter chronicles Ruth's life prior to law school as absolute truths, supported by research.  He continues with specific acts of inequality as exhibits and concludes with her singular victories (even her dissents are victorious).  Here is one of the exhibits.

H.  Exhibit H:  Ruth would speak up at faculty meetings---and the male professors would totally ignore her.  A male professor would then say the very same thing that Ruth had said---and get acknowledged for being smart.  This kept happening even after Ruth became Columbia's first tenured female law professor.

The design of the waving United States flag seen on the opened dust jacket extends to both flap edges.  On the right flap a smaller interior image of Ruth and her mother appears at the bottom.  On the left flap Ruth is seen reading one of her dissents in the Supreme Court.  The back of the dust jacket contains a yellow, lined legal pad acting as a place holder for the opening statement of this "case".  Beneath it Ruth as a little girl stands with determination etched on her face.

Spanning the opened book case, on a background of parchment brown, are the scales of justice.  The center is placed along the spine.  On the left are eight justices, serious and frowning.  On the right Ruth Bader Ginsburg is stepping into the other scale which is filled with books.  One hand is holding a gavel and the other is grasping the line holding the scale.

On the opening and closing endpapers ten rows of shelves hold books from left to right.  Ruth is standing on a ladder, wearing her justice robes, reaching for a book.  These books extend to the following page at the beginning and at the close of the book.  On the title page, the waving flag provides a background for Ruth as a young girl, reading.

Rendered in gouache, ink and Photoshop illustrator Stacy Innerst provides readers with a detailed, poignant portrait of Ruth, during her entire life.  His opening two page picture of a little girl, holding a book in a court room and standing before a jury (us) is particularly powerful.  The essence of the text is distilled in each image.

To show how Ruth's mother worked but was well-read, we see her mopping floors with a mop and bucket and holding a book, reading, at the same time.  To depict anti-Semitism a dark vehicle spans from the entire right across the gutter to most of the left side.  Peering out the back window is Ruth.  She is looking at a sign on a resort fence which reads:


Stacy Innerst alters his picture sizes in keeping with the narrative and to punctuate pacing.  He provides appropriate details in keeping with Ruth's life and the historical setting of each visual.  For the exhibits, each portrait is placed on an opened, yellow and lined legal pad.  At each page turn you are drawn into his illustrations becoming a part of the scene.

One of my many favorite illustrations is of Ruth hiding in the bathroom to study.  It gives specific force to just how much inequality was prevalent then (and sometimes still today).  Ruth is pictured wearing her Cornell sweater seated on the floor of the bathroom under the sink.  Books are spread across the black tile floor.  The background walls are pink tiles with a small border.

Even after several readings the importance of this book, its power, does not diminish.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R. B. G. vs. Inequality written by Jonah Winter with illustrations by Stacy Innerst is a picture book biography to be shared as often as possible.  I highly recommend it being placed on your professional and personal bookshelves.  At the conclusion of this book are a glossary and an author's note.

To discover more about Jonah Winter and Stacy Innerst, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Jonah Winter is interviewed at author Deborah Kalb's site about this title.  At Stacy Innerst's site you can view interior illustrations.  This title is one of the ten The New York Times/New York Public Library Best Illustrated Children's Books Award winners.  It is also one of the 2018 Sydney Taylor Book Award Notable books.  NPR Morning Edition recently (January 22, 2018) chatted with Ruth Bader Ginsburg about the #MeToo Movement.

Please take a few minutes to visit Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to note the other titles selected this week by participants in the 2018 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.

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