In “Turning Pages,” Sonia Sotomayor speaks directly to young readers — particularly young women of color. Her message: life won’t be easy, but with a little help from your friends lining your bookshelves, you’ve got this.
The U.S. Supreme Court justice calls the written word her teachers, mirror, lens and life preserver. But most importantly, a key.
This is not Sotomayor’s first book or even her first children’s book. But it’s a beautiful departure from her previous releases that takes young readers through a world of self-exploration, fostered by Sotomayor’s own journey from a crowded apartment in the Bronx filled with books, to the third woman and first Latina on the nation’s highest court.
Turning Pages (Philomel, $18) adapts her bestselling autobiography My Beloved World into a picture book and uses mixed media pencil illustration to bring readers through Sotomayor’s hardships and rewards of her youth. Like so many of us, she attributes and defines youth milestones by what she was reading.
Books taught her to think critically, but compassionately. They helped her reconcile the plight of her Puerto Rican family. They helped ground her in studies when she enrolled at Princeton University and felt worlds away from her family. And ultimately informed her ability to arbitrate justice.
It was comic books that helped her find courage through a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis at age 7. She found solace in her neighborhood library at age 9, which helped her make sense of her father’s premature death. It was Nancy Drew who first inspired Sotomayor to ask questions. It was the 1969 moon landing and subsequent immersion into science fiction and space travel literature that inspired her to dream big and challenge what she thought was possible for her future. Reading the Bible in high school taught her to love thy neighbor and interpret rules with an equitable eye.
Thumbing through Turning Pages, one finds the art stunning. Lulu Delacre, an illustrator from Puerto Rico, gives life to Sotomayor’s words through meta, dreamlike drawings making the book an ode to both Sotomayor’s past and present.
Just take the cover: native Puerto Rican flora and fauna frame the justice’s ascent to the bench. The dynamic pencil illustrations throughout the book are both realistic and fluid, but by combining the clean lines with whimsical peeks behind the covers of books, young readers will feel like they are on their own special journey across a literary sea (cue multimedia newspaper boats set sail via library cards).
The book immerses young readers in possibilities and also harsh realities by encouraging reflection and using the wisdom of the past to make sense of struggles like poverty, discrimination and fair access to education.
We’re all so wrapped up in the day-to-day, our devices and racing across town, Sotomayor speaks directly to young people and adults alike. She tells them to slow down and appreciate your sense of place — to learn through and from it. We can’t make sense of our future if we can’t locate the purpose of our present.
Sotomayor with appear at the Mississippi Book Festival, Saturday Aug. 19 with Margaret McMullan at 10:45 a.m. on the Galloway stage and will sign books in the reception hall afterward.
Read our staff picks, which we’ll update throughout the week.