I wish I'd learned as a kid, how to get along with and respect people I disagree with. Maybe then it would be easier now.
Those early lessons become second nature and we barely think about them. This book is a great story to read with kids and open up the conversation about being friends with people even when your ideas are polar opposites.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, by Debbie Levy
has a list of tributes and prizes as long as my arm. It's a Booklist Editors’ Choice, NCTE Orbis Pictus honor book, on the New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, and more.
I'm in awe of how the author put so much information into forty illustrated pages, included humor, making Ruth so human, and tying it all together seamlessly.
The process of writing a beautiful, succinct, powerful picture book is hidden. It appears effortless. It's not. Believe me. I've tried it.
Author Debbie Levy kindly agreed to an interview, and I asked her to share some part, perhaps a crucial step in the process of how she distilled the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg becoming a Supreme Court Justice in a way that would interest kids.
Debbie Levy: Early on in my research, I realized my theme: that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been one disagreement after another. I found that she’d been disagreeing with unfairness and discrimination and injustice from the time she was a young girl.
So this theme—that disagreeing doesn’t make you disagreeable and that important change can happen one disagreement after another—was the crucial step in the process of writing this book. (Below: Pages from I DISSENT)
“Ruth objected” (also in school, to the rule that required girls to take home ec, reserving shop class for boys).
Debbie Levy: There is a variation on the “I dissent” theme on nearly every spread in the book. “She protested” (as a schoolgirl, to being required to write with her right hand even though she is left-handed).
“Ruth disapproved right back” (when people disapproved of her decision to go to law school).
“She resisted. And persisted” (when, as a young law school graduate at the top of her class, no one would hire her because she was a woman, a mother, and a Jew). And so on.
The tone is enhanced—and I love this—by Elizabeth Baddeley’s large and emphatic hand lettering of these “dissenting” refrains.
Mary: One of the most powerful parts of the book for me comes near the end, when the character some might call Ruth's nemesis comes into the story.
The illustration shows RBG arguing with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
Then on the next page the two justices are parasailing together in France, then riding an elephant like BFF in India.
That inspires me. And challenges me. How can we get along better with people we disagree with?
Debbie Levy: One lesson is to listen: to listen, really listen, to what people on the other side of an argument have to say.
Before his death last year, Justice Scalia was the Supreme Court justice with whom RBG most frequently, and deeply, disagreed. But they neither shouted past each other nor ignored each other. Instead, they shared their conflicting ideas.
They pointed out weaknesses in the other’s arguments. Justice Ginsburg has explained how this helped her: “Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen . . . [my] opinion.”
The takeaway here: take advantage of a good adversary’s critique.
Thank you, Debbie, I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us. Congratulations on an outstanding book! Check out all Debbie's books here...
I'm fascinated to discover little-known stories of history. Stories of people and events that provide a new perspective on why and how things happened, new voices that haven't been heard, insight into how the past brought us here today, and how it might guide us to a better future.
I also post here about my books and feature other authors and their books on compelling and important historical topics.
Occasionally, I share what makes me happy, pictures of my garden, recipes I've made, events I've attended, people I've met. I'm always happy to hear from readers, in the blog comments, by email or social media.