Doing Justice to the Justice

Sonia Sotomayor: First Hispanic Supreme Court Justice
By Lisa Tucker McElroy
(Lerner Publications, Minneapolis, 2010, $26.60)

Writing about law for adults is hard; describing the legal process for young readers is even harder. In Sonia Sotomayor, Lisa Tucker Mc Elroy educates readers about the Supreme Court and other legal matters, while painting a human portrait of Sotomayor. The result is a readable, if sometimes vague, biography of the Supreme Court Justice.

Born to Puerto Rican immigrant parents in the South Bronx and later appointed to the highest court in the land, Sonia Sotomayor exemplifies the American dream. McElroy makes sure readers understand just how remarkable Sotomayor’s rise was. We learn how Sotomayor’s hard work got her to Princeton and Yale. We also glimpse her personal warmth: she is friendly with her law clerks, calls her mother every day, and advocates for low-income Latinos. Being successful, McElroy suggests, doesn’t have to mean feeling superior to others or forgetting your roots.

McElroy also explores the legal process, summarizing some of Sotomayor’s most famous cases concisely. However, she occasionally includes facts without contextualizing them for readers. For example, she briefly mentions the “Wise Latina” comment that plagued Sotomayor before and during her confirmation hearings: “This was because she had once said in a speech that a Hispanic woman would make a better judge than a white man.” Although McElroy is generally sympathetic towards her subject, she neither contextualizes the remark nor considers the motives of Sotomayor’s opponents. Explaining such complex questions to children is not easy, but McElroy’s lack of explanation may well bewilder her readers. Omitting any mention of the “Wise Latina” controversy would have been a savvier decision.

With color photos of the significant people, places, and moments in the Supreme Court Justice’s life, Sonia Sotomayor is an appealing introduction to Sotomayor. By emphasizing Sotomayor’s determination and warmth, McElroy challenges kids to imagine a new approach to leadership.

© Dorothy A. Dahm

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