There’s a pandemic going on, and now more than ever, children need to read about inspirational figures. Few women have motivated more young girls than Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Three recent releases celebrate her life; each is appropriate for a different age group of children and all three are books that are worthy to be read to children and by children right now. All of them cover the amazing life of Ginsburg, but each is special in a different way. Additionally, two other new picture books feature the lives of two relatively unknown women, Mother Jones and Febb Burn, both of whom changed the lives of women in our country.
‘Ruth Objects: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’ is written by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Eric Velasquez. This book is not just a wonderful picture book, it’s truly a work of art as well. From the design of the front and back covers to the title page and every page within the book, the thought and artistic talent that created this fine piece of literature shine through. The front cover features an image of Ginsburg in front of text from the Constitution of the United States, with no other text. The actual title of the book is on the back cover in large white print in front of a dramatic maroon curtain, under which is what looks like an upside down crown — an illustration that represents the collars that Ginsburg wears over her robes in court. The endpapers each feature quotes from Ginsburg. Most of the pages have an illustration that covers 3/4 of the double page spread with much of the text vertically along one side. What catches the eye, aside from the striking illustrations, is that the text is often aligned along the edge of the page — either left or right. Another lovely touch is that the text color varies depending on the background color of the page. On a deep blue page, the text is white with two quotes from Ginsburg in a larger, yellow font. Because of the care with which every detail in the book was created, her quotes stand out. The illustrations, the spacing of paragraphs, the changes in text color for quotations — all make this book one that is for kids of every age. Like any good nonfiction book, at the end there is a page with “Important Dates” and another page with “Author’s Note” and “Illustrator’s Note.” There is also a “Selected Bibliography” and information about where to learn more about Ginsburg, as well as source notes. (Disney-Hyperion)
“You Should Meet: Ruth Bader Ginsburg” is a “Ready to Read” book created for children who are ready to start reading chapter books. Text is by Laurie Calkhoven, and it’s illustrated by Elizabet Vukovic. This charming and thoughtful book begins with a few questions for the readers: “Have you ever wanted to make the world a better place? Or seen people being treated unfairly and wanted to help? If so, then you should meet Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” Readers will learn about her life, and little tidbits like the fact that when she wears the collar with gold trim and charms over her black robe, it means she’s part of the majority opinion. But if she’s wearing a collar with glass beads on velvet, she’s part of the dissent. At the back of the book are pages filled with additional information not just about Ginsburg, but about the other women on the Supreme Court, her husband, and the Court itself. The very last page is filled with questions asking what the reader learned after reading the book. (Simon & Schuster)
For older readers, there’s a wonderful graphic novel called “Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice” by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Whitney Gardner. Because this book is aimed at more mature readers, 4th grade and older, there are some disturbing historical facts in it that children need to learn. For example, as a child, Ruth learned that “the two grandmotherly ladies on her block who took in foster children taught their boys that Jews were Christ killers!” Her family also saw signs during their travels that said “No colored allowed” and “Whites only” and “No Jews.” Throughout the book, we learn about Ginsburg’s search for justice — for all people — during her career both as a lawyer and as a judge. There’s a lot of information about important specific cases that have changed how we live as Americans, cases in which Ginsburg participated in some way — either as a lawyer or justice. At the end is a timeline, a bibliography, and specific sources for all the quotes used in the book. The illustrations are in shades of blue with some red used sparingly for emphasis. The drawings are simple, but the expressions of the people communicate profound emotions. It’s a book that is enjoyable and extremely educational. (Simon & Schuster)
Two other books about women who made a change in history are “The Voice That Won the Vote: How One Woman’s Words Made History” and “Mother Jones and her Army of Mill Children.”
“The Voice That Won the Vote” by Elisa Boxer and Vivien Mildenberger is about a woman who made a difference in women’s fight for suffrage in 1920. It simply took a letter — Febb Burn wrote a letter to her son, Henry. He was a legislator at the state capitol in Tennessee, and there was going to be an important vote. Thirty-five states wanted women to vote. But for the Nineteenth Amendment to pass, thirty-six states needed to approve it. In Tennessee it was a tie. They needed to have another vote to secure the amendment. After reading his mother’s letter, Henry changed his mind about his vote even though he knew the people in his legislative district didn’t want women to vote, so they wouldn’t vote to reelect him, and he’d probably lose his job. He wanted to follow his mother’s advice. (Spoiler alert: He didn’t lost his job.) The book also includes a valuable brief timeline of the Women’s Suffrage Movement. (Sleeping Bear Press)
“Mother Jones and Her Army of Mill Children” by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Nancy Carpenter is the story of Mary “Mother” Jones and how she and 100 children marched from Philadelphia to New York in a protest against the working conditions of children. The story is narrated in first person by Mother Jones, and her anger at the labor of young children comes through loud and clear in the text: “Well, I’ve seen lots of things to get RILED UP about, but the worst thing I ever saw was in the fabric mills of Philadelphia. I saw children YOUR AGE — nine and ten years old — who worked like grown-ups, forced to stand on their feet for TEN HOURS STRAIGHT…” The illustrations of barefoot young children working in dark factories and walking hunched over on their march will touch readers’ hearts. The march provided a spotlight on the cruelty of child labor and helped spur the drive to enact laws to protect children and keep them in school. It’s a lovely, informative book about a woman who changed the lives of children and families forever. We owe her a huge debt. The endpapers are illustrated with many of her quotes, and at the end of the book, there is an Author’s Note with more information about Mother Jones as well as a bibliography. (Schwartz & Wade)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.