Sep 28, 2013

Sonia Sotomayor- You Be the Judge

(Geezer alert here- sounding even older than I am at the start of this post!)

I remember a time when kids were asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and the answers ranged from cowboy to cook, from astronaut to paleontologist. The ubiquitous media dominance of sports stars, musical performers,  and reality personalities, (no matter how dysfunctional), make other answers more likely these days. Sadly, more and more little ones skip the career designation and just say, "Rich!" or "Famous!" or "On TV!"

Even more pathetic is the current insistence that students as young as preschoolers be made "college and career ready", as determined by some arbitrarily designed and inappropriately administered standardized test. It's not that I'm opposed to career awareness. Quite the contrary, picture books offer outstanding options for exploring careers in general, or  specifically through biographies of successful individuals. 

Charlesbridge, 2012

I've been touting one title that does an outstanding job of that, CLOTHESLINE CLUES TO JOBS PEOPLE DO, written by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook, illustrated by Andy Robert Davies.
The Heling & Hembrook team offers riddles in their characteristically tightly-rhymed and tumbling text while Davies portrays a visual subplot that kids love. (I do, too!)

As for encouraging kids to dream big, to start early with ambitious plans, I'm all-aboard on that train, too. I was one of those kids, as noted in one of my earliest posts. Children are best served when encouraged to imagine and aspire without limits based on arbitrary scores on trivia-oriented bubble sheets or mouse clicks.

With testing and scores overshadowing a five year old's school day, how often do you think you'll hear that child say she wants to grow up to be a judge?
Each year the term of our United States Supreme Court begins on the first Monday of October. Even though the current term continues until that day, (this year, 2013, that falls on October 7), no active arguments or decisions occur after late June. Anticipating this important day in our government seems the best possible time for me to share a remarkable picture book, the bilingual biography SONIA SOTOMAYOR: A Judge Grows in the Bronx. Written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez, this 2009 release was timely then, but is timeless now. 
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2009

My appreciation for this book began when I heard the title, a powerful and appropriate riff on  A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In that novel a fictional young girl is raised primarily by her tirelessly laboring mother. Her dreams defy the reality of her neighborhood, society's expectations,  and her poverty. 
The same is true generations later for one real life young girl in the Bronx, as presented with accessible and effective bilingual passages in the well-researched and factual biography of US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

I grew up at a time when career choices were limited by your birthright and circumstances (for minorities, for those with disabilities, or for those of us who happened to be female). I love that Sonia's grand plan not only allowed for the possibility of a female becoming a judge, but that she actually had a role model in Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The fact that this book is bilingual is not just a bonus, it plays an essential role in acknowledging the additional limitations her ethnicity imposed on her as a child. I can read a bit of Spanish but do not have enough grasp of the language to judge the quality or lyricism of that part of the text. If it measures up to the accessibility and fluidity of the English text, it's a dual gift to teachers as mentor text. (Anyone fluent in Spanish who can offer an opinion on this is invited to do so.)

Many recent blog posts have addressed the fact that US children's literature greatly under-represents our diverse culture. BBC News Magazine has a short feature that points this out quite well. This picture book shines a light on an inspiring ethnic-American leader, but also offers an appealing story and images of an American child. All non-fiction should aspire to such heights.


  1. Here's a coloring book future Supreme Court justices might enjoy:

    1. Thanks, Tim. This is a great resource for classrooms and I'll pass it along.


Picture books are as versatile and diverse as the readers who enjoy them. Join me to explore the wacky, wonderful, challenging and changing world of picture books.