In his 1873 opinion in the case of Bradwell v. Illinois, Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Bradley wrote:

"The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life."

In their brilliant graphic novel / biography, Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Journey to Justice, writer Debbie Levy and illustrator Whitney Gardner provide a powerful response drawn from an article written by 8th grader Ruth Bader:

"Then, too, we must try hard to understand that for righteous people hate and prejudice are neither good occupations nor fit companions. Rabbi Alfred Bettleheim once said: 'Prejudice saves us a painful trouble, the trouble of thinking.'"

Without question, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has become an icon in popular culture. Though I agree with this majority opinion (legal pun!), the danger lies in forgetting that icons are also real, human people with nuance. This book does the good work of reminding young readers of her humanity, without minimizing her truly remarkable life's work. From her respectful curiosity as a child to the life-giving partnership with husband Marty and friendship with fellow Justice Antonin Scalia (both now deceased), Ginsburg can be set before young readers (male and female) as a model of grace, perseverance, dignity, and openness.


Many times, both with this book and with the excellent film dramatization of RBG's work in gender discrimination: On the Basis of Sex, I've been struck by how Ginsburg's life and work have adhered to a consistent and insistent argument: both women and men are harmed by discriminatory practices and regulations. Though her work against these practices has been transformative, there is still much to be done to change the culture. I can imagine a powerful interdisciplinary teaching unit using this book as the foundation. It couples the accessibility of the graphic novel format with strong vocabulary, deep historical context, and excellent use of primary and secondary sources. Besides that, it is a thoroughly entertaining read and could start many young men and women down the road of being change-makers in their own communities.


Though the videos of RBG working out at the gym are fascinating and inspiring, it is the working out of her capacious mind and spirit that propels me forward. Thanks to Debbie Levy and Whitney Gardner for bringing these attributes fully to life in an excellent example of graphic non-fiction.


Justice - both the title and the concept - is the epitome of a certain kind of power. We may never sit on the Supreme Court, but we have a common duty. Levy and Gardner remind us that each of us are fit for the highest of occupations: working for justice and against hate and prejudice wherever it may be found.


The best books spark the best conversations! If you have thoughts to share, please feel free to email me at sarabethwest52@gmail.com. I promise a reply.

Every Wednesday, I send out something of a hodgepodge of ideas, a gathering of thoughts on books, culture, and unexpected moments of joy. Sign up here to stay in the loop!

Rebecca Stead is one of those magic-filled authors, one you can rely on to surprise, delight, and enchant you. She is also a writer that reliably surprises, delights, and enchants young readers. This might seem to go without saying, but in reality, it is no small task. Librarians and teachers know how often it happens that what the adult in the room thinks is wonderful, the child is decidedly less interested in. The List of Things That Will Not Change is one of those titles that meets both adult and child reader right where they are.



The List of Things That Will Not Change is about Bea, a girl working through all the layers of her past (primarily her parents' super-amicable divorce) as well as her present and future (her father's remarriage to his boyfriend, Jesse).


Or it's about only children and siblings and cousins and uncles and aunts and the ways families build each other and destroy each other in countless ways.


Or it's about identity and uncertainty and the adolescent fear that maybe the bad part of us is the only "real" part of us.


Or it's about love in all its magnificent forms and bravery and happiness balloons.


Like a spiral that extends downward and outward, expanding to fill whatever space it inhabits, this book is much more than it might seem at first glance. Just like life, it is "about" all the things, and we are all the better when we handle them with care.


The List of Things That Will Not Change will be released on April 7, 2020. Preorder today from bookshop.org or your favorite independent bookseller.


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The 2021 Newbery Medal selection committee spends the whole year considering titles. As always, I will be reading and reviewing along with the committee, keeping one eye on today's young readers and the other eye on each book's prospects. After each review, I'll offer my one-sentence take (OST) on medal-worthiness.


OST: This book will be a strong contender.



The best books spark the best conversations! If you have thoughts to share, please feel free to email me at sarabethwest52@gmail.com. I promise a reply.

Every Wednesday, I send out something of a hodgepodge of ideas, a gathering of thoughts on books, culture, and unexpected moments of joy. Sign up here to stay in the loop!

Sara Beth West

(@fiftytwowest)

is a reader and a writer, offering book reviews and interviews with leading writers and thinkers.

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