The challenge of writing a biographical picture book is taking your subject, distilling it and finding a starting point and, if you are lucky, a theme. Debbie Levy, the author of I Dissent! Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark does a superb job with all of these points, illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley perfectly capturing the time period of RBG's early life and emphasizing her opinions, passions and struggles with marvelous hand-lettering that is loud and empowering.
Maybe I've been reading more biographies about women who do or have done great things than usual, but I'm feeling a little depressed by the universal fact that women (still) have the hurdle of being born a woman to contend with and overcome before they go on to any other great things (and, more often than not, while they are going on to great things...) Levy begins her book, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life has been . . . One disagreement after another. Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes. This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life - and ours." Here Levy makes the subtle point that women often have to disagree with what is presented to them to move around, under or over discrimination, actions that can lead to name calling much worse than "disagreeable." Ruth had a mother who took her to the library, where she found role models in women who did big things.
Ruth took her first stand and protested when she was in elementary school. As a lefty, she was forced to use her right hand and failed her penmanship test. She protested and used her left hand, exhibiting handwriting that was quite nice. Being a rule breaker isn't always hard, but knowing which rules and when to break them is a talent and Ruth had it. She was sensitive to prejudice and unfairness, fuel for her fire.
Ruth lost her mother the day before her high school graduation, but continued on to Cornell University, knowing that this was what her mother wanted. There she met Marty Ginsburg, who inspired her to attend Harvard law school with him where she was one of nine women out of 500 men. By the time she graduated she had three strikes against her: she was a woman, a Jew and a mother. She struggled to find a job. Eventually, she found herself arguing for equal treatment of women before the Supreme Court.
The challenge of I Dissent! Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark is presenting her work as a Supreme Court judge in a way that young readers can grasp and Levy does this briefly and well. The inequality and prejudice that RBG dealt with as a child, young woman and professional is the main focus of Levy's book, but it does all lead organically and integrally to the end and her tenure as a Supreme Court judge. Levy even takes two pages to feature her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, a Justice she disagreed with often in court. While this is a unique detail from RBG's life, it also feels very needed and important in a time when there is so much disagreement and friction, to put it nicely, between fellow Americans.
There's no question that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an inspirational figure to girls, women and anyone discriminated against or subject to injustice. Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley have created a book that is the prefect first look at this invaluable human being.