I’m delighted and honored to join the blog tour for Turning Pages: My Life Story / Pasando páginas: La historia de mi vida by Sonia Sotomayor, illustrated by Lulu Delacre (Philomel Books; ages 4-8).
As the first Latina Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor has become a powerful role model for our nations’ daughters. And if you knew nothing of her other than her appointment and judicial opinions, you would have every reason to hold her in high esteem. But in learning more about her journey to the nations’s highest court and reading how she navigated her life’s challenges (many shared by average Americans) I am overcome with warmth and admiration for her.
In Turning Pages: My Life Story Justice Sotomayor takes the reader from her birth in the Bronx to her Supreme Court appointment in 2009. Throughout her story we read about how books served as companions, guides, and tools as she navigated life’s challenges. With candor and sensitivity for the reader’s age she writes about facing a childhood diagnosis of diabetes, learning English as a second language, the early death of her father, her family’s financial challenges, and her mother’s determination to provide a brighter future. She speaks about finding courage, passion, empathy, knowledge, and inspiration in books. Beautiful illustrations bring life to her story and expertly convey the transcendent power of reading.
Justice Sotomayor’s story is one of self-determination and persistence, buoyed by a love of reading, and culminating in the remarkable achievement of being the first Latina Supreme Court Justice. And this book is one of hope and inspiration; a potent literacy advocate; and a message of empowerment for all kids. There will be many children with chronic illness, one-parent homes, first-generation families, or economic strain who will recognize pieces of their own story in hers and see a world of possibility for themselves. Many who will look at the generously shared personal photos (displayed in the endpapers) and be enthused to see people who look like themselves. This representation on so many levels is what makes Sonia Sotomayor’s story a truly American story and one I hope many children across our nation will have the chance to read. Because it is true that representation matters. And I’m so pleased to read to my daughter about how Sonia Sotomayor was appointed to represent us on the bench.
My story is a story about books—of poems and comics, of law and mystery, of science and science fiction—written both in Spanish and in English. Even though I was born and grew up in New York City, espanol, Spanish, was the language we spoke at home—the language of Puerto Rico, the island where my family came from. I struggled to learn English. Balancing two languages in my head wasn’t always easy, but books made learning fun. Reading was like lighting candles, each book a flame that lit up the world around me. What was so special about books? Do written words have a unique magic? At each step in my life, I would put together the answer like pieces to a puzzle.
When I was nine years old, my father, Papi, who had been sick for a long time, passed away. I felt sad and confused, and my home was filled with gloom. But I discovered a place where I could feel comfort. All summer long at the nearby Parkchester Library, I walked through the aisles and touched the musty volumes until one book after another caught my eye. I read as many books as I could; I wanted to read them all. I was lucky to have a library that was in my neighborhood, walking distance from home. For hours, I could sail away to the wondrous lands in the stories I would choose from the stacks. The library was my harbor, and books were little boats that helped me escape sadness at home.
All that reading taught me about the farthest reaches of the planet and even about the little island closest to my heart: Puerto Rico. I read about men and women there who worked heard, but were paid very little. I read about how Puerto Rico became a part of the United States of America. Just like in the books, my grandfather worked in a cigar factory and got sick from the dust, and my aunt spent long days stitching handkerchiefs. Like many of the Puerto Ricans who came to New York, Mami had a hard life. She studied for many years to become a nurse and was able to scrimp and save so that her kids—Juan and I—would have a brighter future. Reading had long taught me about the world outside, but now I was seeing in books a reflection of the lives led by my own family. Books were mirrors of my very own universe.
Justice means treating people fairly under the law. It’s also the name of what I am now—Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. As a Justice, I study the most important words in American law—the founding document of our government, the Constitution of the United States—and decide which laws agree with it. Every day I borrow from the lessons of law books of the past and write decisions and opinions that will be bound into the law books of the future. Books are keys that unlock the wisdom of yesterday and open the door to tomorrow.