Ruth Bader Ginsburg picture bio takes a top honor in Jewish children’s book awards

Penny Schwartz

BOSTON (JTA) — A picture book biography about the trailblazing life of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was among the top three winners of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards for Jewish children’s books.

The awards were announced Wednesday by the Association of Jewish Libraries.

“I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark,” the lively and boldly illustrated biography by Debbie Levy, with illustrations by Elizabeth Baddeley, won in the category for younger readers.

An illustrated medieval fantasy, “The Inquisitor’s Tale” (Dutton/Penguin Random House), by Adam Gidwitz, with illustrations by Hatem Aly, won the top prize for older readers. “Anna and the Swallow Man” (Alfred A. Knopf/Penguin Random House), a Holocaust novel by debut author Gavriel Savit, was the top winner for older teens.


The award is named in memory of Sydney Taylor, author of the classic “All-of-a-Kind Family” series, and “recognizes books for children and teens that exemplify high literary standards while authentically portraying the Jewish experience,” the Association of Jewish Libraries said in its announcement.

The Sydney Taylor awards committee was impressed by the array of books they considered, according to Ellen Tilman, chair of the awards committee.

In a masterful marriage of simple text and popping art, Levy and Baddeley chart the life of Ginsburg, known as the “Notorious R.B.G.” through a unique lens of her affinity for dissent. Ginsburg was the first Jewish female Supreme Court justice and the second woman to serve on the high court.

“You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been one of disagreement after disagreement,” the book begins. The double-page spread is filled with cartoon-like illustrations with large blocks of text proclaiming “Ruth has disagreed, disapproved and differed,” with one drawing of her as a young girl and another wearing her black Supreme Court robe.

Readers learn of her early life in a Jewish family in a New York City neighborhood of immigrants, to her pursuit of college and law school, family life, legal career and eventual appointment to the Supreme Court. The book demonstrates “that dissent does not have to make a person disagreeable and can even change the world,” according to the Sydney Taylor committee.

From its opening page, “The Inquisitor’s Tale” is an irresistible page turner for older readers in an epic adventure that follows three magical children and their dog on a quest to save thousands of volumes of the Talmud. A New York Times best-seller, the text by Gidwitz, who also wrote “A Tale Dark and Grimm,” is embellished with exquisite black-and-white illuminations in the style of a medieval manuscript, including doodles in the borders.

“Anna and the Swallow Man” is a captivating and haunting coming-of-age story set in 1939, in Krakow, when the professor father of a young girl is suddenly taken away by the Nazis. Anna follows a mysterious man as they travel through the forest eluding capture for four years, communicating through their own language. There are dark moments in this highly acclaimed allegorical novel of a loss of innocence.

Silver medals were awarded to a pair of books for younger readers including “Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy” by Richard Michelson, illustrated by Edel Rodriguez, and “A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story about Knitting and Love,” by Michelle Edwards, with illustrations by G. Brian Karas.

The silver medal for older readers went to “A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day,” by Andrea Davis Pinckney, with illustrations by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, and “Dreidels on the Brain,” a Hanukkah tale by storyteller Joel ben Izzy.

Notable books include “Gabriel’s Horn,” a Rosh Hashanah story by master storyteller Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Maria Surducan, and “The Sundown Kid: A Southwestern Shabbat,” by Barbara Bietz, with illustrations by John Kanzler.

Veteran Times of Israel culture journalist Jessica Steinberg also got a nod with a notable award for her debut children’s book, “Not This Turkey,” a lively Jewish immigrant tale for Thanksgiving, illustrated by Amanda Pike.