Debbie Levy wrote the book I wanted to write. “I Dissent” is a book that centers around Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s disagreements, which is pretty brilliant. Through showing her dissents (whether about gender and race inequalities, for instance), this book teaches kids to stand up for what they believe.
The illustrated book, which is intended for children ages 4-8, was noted by Booklist as demonstrating “how disagreement can lead to meaningful discussion and doesn’t have to be personal. This lively, inviting, and informative biography of a historic woman will empower young ones to bravely voice their opinions.”
I was lucky to be able to speak with Levy about her book, what her favorite children’s books are, and what Jewish holiday she would be.
How did you decide to write a book based off of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s disagreements?
Like many people, I knew that the Glorious RBG was the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States and the first Jewish woman on the Court. I knew that, before she was a Supreme Court justice, she was a federal appeals court judge in Washington, D.C., and, before that, one of leading lawyers in the field of equal rights for women and girls.
What I didn’t know, until I started researching more deeply, is that she has been disagreeing with unfairness and with things that are just plain wrong from the time she was a little girl. I mean, she objected to being excluded from shop class in grade school, and being required to take cooking and sewing instead! When on a car trip with her parents, she disagreed with she saw a sign outside a hotel that read “No Dogs or Jews Allowed.”
Later, of course, she went on to disagree, resist, object, and dissent her way into big things. And she’s been doing this for years in a manner that is not obnoxious (more benefit of the doubt than bashing, more insight than invective), and in service of justice.
So, I realized, the story of her life offers this inspiring lesson: Disagreeing does not make you disagreeable, and important change happens one disagreement at a time. What fine ideas for a children’s book!
When did you start writing? How did you persevere through all the rejections?
When I was 7. That’s the year my mother and I sent a picture book off to Scholastic Book Club. I thought they’d publish it immediately! Believe it or not, they didn’t. I’m pretty sure we sent the “manuscript” to the P.O. box where you send your money to buy the books, so, understandably, we never heard anything. But I do have a number of my other works from that era, thanks to Mom, who kept them. I show them to kids to prove to them that you can start out as a laughable and sloppy writer and still grow up and become a published author.
As for rejections, most of them have been deserved. For a writer, or for me, anyway, the best thing about rejections is that they force you to improve.
If you could be anyone or anything, just for one day, what would you be?
A justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Or a Great Blue Heron.
What was your favorite children’s book or young adult novel growing up?
The “All-of-a-Kind-Family” series written by Sydney Taylor.
What TV show have you binge watched?
“A Place To Call Home” and “The Americans.” I define “binge-watching” as one or more episodes a night over consecutive or nearly consecutive nights until you reach the end of the season in question. (Does the fact that I felt compelled to give you a definition prove to you that I am, in fact, a lawyer?)
Who are you, in one sentence?
I’m the daughter of a refugee from Nazi Germany and a bona fide hero of World War II, and although that doesn’t explain everything about me, it does account for something.
Biggest pet peeve:
I really dislike emptying the dishwasher. Is that a peeve? If not, it should be.
If you were a Jewish holiday, which one would you be?
What’s the best thing about yourself? What’s the worst?
Best: Ask my children.
Worst: Ask my husband.
Other than to be the best butterfly swimmer in Montgomery County, Maryland, which I was not, it was to be a writer.