Examining the Impact and Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday. Here are some books to help educators explain her work and legacy to students.

After the news broke of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, her most famous quotes filled social media. One speaks volumes to educators, particularly, libarians.

"Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life," she said. "Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true."

Students no doubt spent the weekend hearing about "Notorious RBG." Educators who want to explain her work, impact on the country (specifically women's rights), and legacy can turn to one of the many biographies of her life.

Here are SLJ's review for some of the options.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: The Case of R.B.G. vs. Inequality. by Jonah Winter. Illus. by Stacy Innerst. Abrams. ISBN 9781419725593.

Gr 3 Up—"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: During this trial, you will learn about a little girl who had no clue just how important she would become. You will see the unfair world she was born into—where boys were valued more than girls, where women were not encouraged to achieve and aspire…Here are the facts of her case." Thus begins this clever, engaging picture book biography, which chronicles Ginsburg's early years in Brooklyn, at Cornell, and beyond, highlighting the obstacles she encountered at every turn. Readers are asked to act as the jury, examining the injustices the young lawyer faced: "Exhibit F: Even among the law firms supposedly open to hiring women, not one firm would hire her. She was a woman, she was Jewish, AND she was a mother." The illustrations, rendered in gouache, ink, and Photoshop, illuminate the text with humor and sophistication. One page features the young college student perched under the sink in the bathroom, secretly studying—everyone knew a smart, studious girl would never get asked on a date. Another shows caricatures of the large, black-robed male justices yawning, angry, or perplexed as a tiny Ginsburg reads one of her famous "dissents." The endpapers feature shelves and shelves of books in the same muted tones of the book—cream, pale pink, black, gray, and brown. Pair with Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley's I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, another fabulous picture book biography on the subject. VERDICT An excellent addition to "Mighty Girl" collections!—Barbara Auerbach, New York City Public Schools

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark. By Debbie Levy. Illus. by Elizabeth Baddeley. S. & S. ISBN 9781481465595.

Gr 3-5 –Ruth Bader Ginsburg grew up in a time different from today; girls were taught to aspire to be wives and mothers—not study at college and become lawyers. This picture book biography of Justice Ginsburg traces her achievements in the field of law back to her girlhood years, emphasizing for readers the importance of dissent in the face of an unequal society. Students will delight as they watch a young Ginsburg “protest” being forced to write with her right hand (she was left-handed) and “object” to being made to take home economics instead of shop class. The text goes on to briefly cover her high school, college, and law school years, as well as her marriage to Martin Ginsburg and the birth of her two children. The majority of the narrative focuses on Ginsburg’s law career, her entry into the U.S. Supreme Court, and her work as an associate justice. The writing is appropriately succinct for its intended audience and is nicely complemented by Baddeley’s richly illustrated cartoonish drawings. The use of colorful and bold typography to highlight words such as protest , object, dissent, disagree, and agree injects life into the work. Back matter includes photos of Ginsburg, more information on her life and the Supreme Court cases alluded to in the text, and a bibliography with quotation sources. VERDICT This dynamic offering is an essential purchase that will be useful for completing assignments as well as for pleasure reading.—Rebecca Gueorguiev, New York Public Library

No Truth Without Ruth: The Life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. By Kathleen Krull. Illus. by Nancy Zhang. HarperCollins/Harper. ISBN 9780062560117.

Gr 3–5— Although similar in style and format to Debbie Levy's I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, this biography focuses more on Ginsburg's law career and the professional obstacles she faced. The author incorporates small details about Ginsburg, such as her wearing her mother's earrings and pin; however, not much other personal information is provided, beyond a list of hobbies. Zhang uses a palette of soft colors, but makes Ginsburg visually stand out through facial expressions. Some of the text is framed by delicate scrollwork on a facing page; at other times, the text is incorporated into the illustrations and certain phrases and quotes are in a different font. "No truth without Ruth" is an oft-repeated line. Back matter includes information on the federal court system, a top 10 list of Ginsburg's Supreme Court opinions, and a list of sources. One quibble: the ending photo of the Supreme Court is of when Ginsburg first joined and features Sandra Day O'Connor and several other retired/deceased judges—why not include a more recent image with Sonia Sotomayor? VERDICT Collections with little material on Ginsburg will want to purchase; otherwise, an additional consideration.—Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

[Read: Teaching Ideas and Lessons for I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark]

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy. Illus. by Whitney Gardner. S & S. ISBN 9781534424562.

Gr 6 Up–Levy once again turns to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom she profiled in the picture book I Dissent, this time writing a biography of the Supreme Court Justice for the middle and high school set. Juxtaposing Ginsburg’s childhood as a Jew in 1930s America with the Nazi uprising in Europe and the proliferation of anti-Semitism, Levy demonstrates how Ginsburg’s sense of justice was formed at an early age as young Ruth realized that bigotry can flourish anywhere, even in the United States. Inspiration from heroes such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Ruth’s mother, Celia Bader, set Ginsburg on the path to greatness. At Harvard Law, where she was one of only nine female students, she rose to the top of her class, navigating sexism with the support of her unorthodox husband, Marty Ginsburg. Levy expertly makes Ginsburg’s landmark court cases relevant to a middle and high school audience. Gardner’s minimalist, three-color artwork echoes Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. At times, placement of text bubbles distracts from the flow of the narrative, cutting sentences in half and continuing them on another panel, but overall the illustrations are effective, and Gardner’s depiction of Ginsburg is abstract enough that all readers will see themselves in her story. VERDICT Fans of graphic biographies such as Penelope Bagieu´s Brazen or John Lewis’s March will appreciate this look at how the “Notorious RBG” came up.—Elise Martinez, Zion-Benton Public Library, IL

Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Life and Work by Victoria Ortiz. Clarion. ISBN 9780544973640.

Gr 6 Up— This accessible and engaging biography of the Supreme Court Justice successfully weaves together information about her life and major court cases in which she had significant influence. Each of the 10 chapters highlights a different court case and a segment of Bader Ginsburg's life, including her academic pursuits, experiences as a woman facing blatant gender discrimination, and her marriage to Martin Ginsburg. The many challenges Bader Ginsburg faced as a person of the Jewish faith growing up during the time of World War II, and as a woman studying law in an overwhelmingly male field are described. Her ferocious determination to fight injustice and inequality stem from personal experience. The first three cases involve teens, (a 13-year-old girl who was strip-searched at school, a 16-year-old girl who fought random drug testing at school, and an 18-year-old boy who fought for his right to freedom of speech and expression at school), and should be particularly relatable to today's youth. Ortiz provides a good overview of how the court system works and how cases reach the Supreme Court. She also explains what it means to dissent and how Bader Ginsburg was encouraged from an early age through the teachings of Judaism to question, challenge, and disagree. Ample black-and-white photos show the subject throughout her life, including the people she defended and befriended. A lengthy bibliography is provided and the appendix includes the Bill of Rights. VERDICT A straightforward and up-to-date biography about a groundbreaking American icon.—Madeline J. Bryant, Los Angeles Public Library

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Young Readers' Edition. By Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Harper. ISBN 9780062748539.

Gr 5–8— A tribute to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg that does more than catalog her achievements; it conveys her spirit, one that will leave readers in awe. Widely viewed as a champion for women's rights, Ginsburg is quick to correct that she battles for "women's and men's liberation," as best illustrated in the case of Stephen Wiesenfeld, who was prevented from collecting his dead wife's social security due to his gender. Ginsburg accepted the case to argue that equality under the law benefits both sexes, and shrewdly, to set a precedent. Not only are her professional triumphs lauded, and our justice system explained, the authors do an excellent job of rounding out her rich life: wife in an egalitarian marriage, mother, and close friends with her polar opposite on the bench, Justice Scalia. The one misstep is the clumsy handling of the justice's cancer, introduced as "her struggle." Young readers may need more clarification. However, the book's strengths far overshadow this stumble. This version shares the same knockout formatting as the adult edition: a plethora of photographs and images leaving nary a page unadorned, and slim informational inserts, such as "How to be like RBG" and "RBG's workout," that lend this serious subject a lighthearted tone. VERDICT Just as Ginsburg's (sometimes) frilly jabot belies the quiet revolutionary, this lively biography of this esteemed justice whose influence straddles two centuries is to be taken seriously. Highly recommended.— Laura Falli, McNeil High School, Austin, TX


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