Archive for November 30th, 2017

by Sam Juliano

“Just as buildings in California have a greater need to be earthquake proofed, places where there is greater racial polarization in voting have a greater need for prophylactic measures to prevent purposeful race discrimination.

-Ruth Bader Ginsburg

     She is the second woman ever to serve on the United States Supreme Court as an Associate Justice.  At 84 she is the oldest member of the court and generally regarded as the leader of the liberal wing.  A strident feminist and strong advocate for women’s rights she fought discrimination through much of her life, and in her younger years was an actual victim.  As she approached eighty, this demure grandmother, weighing only ninety pounds, was looked on as a cultural icon for her audacious stands against a conservative male majority.   Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs Equality by Jonah Winter, with illustrations by Stacy Innerset is a picture book biography of a seminal figure in the judicial ranks that chronicles her earliest years, the influence of her beloved mother, through her college years where she met the love of her life and broke through long standing barriers connected to race, gender and role.  With the combination of concise and riveting text and some of the most exquisite art in Innerst’s picture book career a biographical milestone has been achieved.  It all begins as Winter presents the book with a judicial bookend which is in tune with what Ginsburg eventually became.  She is seen as a little girl who hasn’t a clue of what her life would bring. Winter announces that the future Supreme Court Associate Justice endured a difficult life at a socially turbulent time, and these, alas are “the facts of the case.”

The early 1930’s saw a large influx of Jewish immigrants as a result of anti-Semitic persecution in Germany, and a prime place for relocation was none other than Brooklyn, New York.  Some set up business in the Borough while others commuted to the garment district in Manhattan daily.  Young Ruth’s earliest years were spent in a small apartment in a building with few furnishings, comparable to the fictional Kramdens of Bensonhurst.  Ruth’s father never finished high school, but was still enterprising enough to have owned a fur shop before declining business forced him to become an employee in the same profession.  Innerst’s drab maroon-gray decor and subdued tints signify near impoverishment, though a copy of The New York Times and a familial embrace and family portrait imply a tightly knit unit and a measure of literacy confirmed over the ensuing pages.  Ruth’s intellectual role model is unveiled as her enterprising Mom, a high school graduate, prone to multi-tasking, an arduous domestic servant, who, much like the bibliophile Elizabeth Brown in Sarah Stewart and David Small’s 1995 picture book The Library, succeeded in reading and mopping floors simultaneously.  Living at a time when women were highly discouraged from college enrollment, Ruth’s mother secured a job at fifteen years old to help pay for her own brother’s education before settling in to conform to her husband’s edict that “a woman’s place was in the home.”  Yet, this homebound directive gave Ruth’s mom the opportunity to instill in her ever receptive offspring a love of books, imparted daily while the cookie jar was utilized for future education funding. (more…)

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