About the Holiday
During the month of December we honor the world’s citizens and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), an international document adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration describes basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all people are entitled. Some of these include freedom from discrimination, the right to equality, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Outlined in thirty articles, the declaration is aimed at ensuring equality of rights for all. For a version of the articles for children, visit Compasito.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
Written by Debbie Levy | Illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley
Ruth Bader grew up during the 1940s in Brooklyn, New York’s multicultural neighborhood. It was a time when boys were educated for jobs and bright futures while girls were expected to marry and raise children. Ruth’s mother, Celia Amster Bader, however, “thought girls should also have the chance to make their mark on the world.” She introduced Ruth to books in which she discovered women who used their strength, courage, and intelligence to do big things.
Ruth also saw and felt the sting of prejudice while growing up. Her family was Jewish, and at the time “hotels, restaurants, even entire neighborhoods” denied access to Jews, African Americans, Mexicans, and others. Ruth disagreed and never forgot. She was even discriminated against for being left-handed. In school she was instructed to write with her right hand, but her awkward penmanship earned a D. First, she cried; then she protested by only writing with her left hand—“it turned out she had quite nice handwriting!”
During elementary school, Ruth was outstanding in some classes, such as history and English, and did not do so well in others, such as sewing and cooking. Music, especially opera, was another favorite subject—even though she did not have the voice to match her dreams. She excelled in high school and was even chosen as a graduation speaker. But Ruth had been hiding the fact that her mother was very ill. The day before graduation, her mother died. Ruth did not go to her graduation, but she did fulfill her mother’s wish and entered college.
In college Ruth met Marty Ginsberg, and the two fell in love. They both decided to become lawyers to fight prejudice and unfairness in court. People thought this was a great idea for Marty, but disapproved of it for Ruth. “Ruth disapproved right back. So did Marty.” After college they got married, went to law school, and had a baby girl.
In law school Ruth was one of nine women in a class of 500. She worked hard and tied with another student as first in the class, but after graduation she couldn’t find a job. Employers objected because she was a woman, a mother, and Jewish. Finally, she found work with a judge. Her excellent work for him translated into jobs at one law school after another, and she became “one of the few female law professors in the whole country.”
All around her Ruth saw other women who were denied jobs or paid less than men. Women also had very little voice in courtrooms or in government. Rulings by the Supreme Court, the highest court in America, had helped maintain this inequality. The Court had stated that women were unfit for many jobs because of their “natural and proper timidity and delicacy.” Besides, the Supreme Court also said, “Woman has always been dependent upon man.”
“Ruth really, really disagreed with this!” So she began fighting in court for equal rights for women. But equal rights for women also meant equal rights for men: Ruth believed men should be able to stay home with children if they wanted to while women worked. “These were fresh ideas in the 1970s. Ruth did not win every case, but she won enough. With each victory, women and men and girls and boys enjoyed a little more equality.”
At home, Ruth’s own family agreed with her. Marty was a successful lawyer and also an accomplished chef who cooked the family’s meals. Ruth went on to become a well-known and well-respected lawyer. President Jimmy Carter asked her to be a judge in Washington DC. Then President Bill Clinton chose her to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court. “Ruth agreed.
In 1993, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg became the first Jewish woman on the nation’s highest court.” When the nine justices decide a case, they listen to both sides and then vote. The winning side then writes an opinion explaining their ruling. When Justice Ginsburg votes with the winning side, she wears a special lace collar over her robe. When she does not agree with the ruling, she says, “I dissent” and writes an opinion explaining why. She has a special collar for dissenting too.
Some of her dissensions were influenced by her early experiences. She dissented when “the court wouldn’t help women or African Americans or immigrants who had been treated unfairly at work.” She dissented when the court did not protect voting rights for all citizens. She dissented when the court disagreed with schools that offered African Americans a better chance to go to college.” And once when she dissented, Congress and the president agreed with her and overturned the Supreme Court’s ruling.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now the oldest member of the Supreme Court. Some people think she should retire, but she disagrees. She still has work to do. Over the years, she has “cleared a path for people to follow in her footsteps—girls in college, women in law school, and everyone who wants to be treated without prejudice….Step by step, she has made a difference…one disagreement after another.”
An extensive Author’s Note about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life, notes on Supreme Court Cases, and a selected bibliography follow the text.
Debbie Levy’s outstanding biography allows readers to journey with Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her experiences and beliefs lay the foundation for her life’s work. Well-chosen anecdotes from Ginsburg’s childhood make her accessible to kids and may even inspire them to look toward their own futures. Ginsburg’s trajectory from college student to lawyer to judge and finally to the Supreme Court is balanced and uplifting, emphasizing the positive impact of persistence and self-confidence.
Elizabeth Baddeley’s illustrations go hand-in-hand with Levy’s text to fully illuminate the life of Ruth Bader Ginsburg for children. Ginsburg’s intelligence, sense of humor, courage, and principles are evident as she matures from school girl to Supreme Court Justice. Dynamic typography highlights the theme of dissent and disagreement as a force for positive change. The color, expression, and spirit imbued in each page make I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark an exciting and eye-catching read for all children.
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark is a superb and recommended book for girls and boys. The book’s focus on a woman who continues to make a difference will inspire children and even adult readers to speak up and act on their convictions.
Ages 5 – 9
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
To learn more about Debbie Levy and her books for children and young adults, visit her website!
Discover a gallery of illustration by Elizabeth Baddeley on her website!
Universal Human Rights Month Activity
Soar Together Coloring Page
Making friends from around the world is a wonderful way to learn about human rights and make the world a better place. Grab your colored pencils or crayons and enjoy this printable Soar Together Coloring Page!
Picture Book Review