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Headshot of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Photo credit: The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Lit Bits: Exploring Identity with Sonia Sotomayor

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This blog was researched by Katya Soto, a former intern under the mentorship of Guy Lamolinara, Head, Center for the Book. Additional collections connections were added by Alli Hartley-Kong, Educational Resource Specialist in the Informal Learning Office and Isabel Sans, Teaching With Primary Sources intern in the Young Readers Center & Programs Lab.

What does a child learn when they see someone of their background in a position of power?

This month in Lit Bits, the Library’s series of short-form films excerpted from past programs, we celebrate Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor made history by becoming the first Puerto Rican woman to serve in a federal court, and the first Latina woman to serve on the Supreme Court. In addition to her legal role, Sotomayor has authored several books. In the Lit Bit below which is excerpted from the 2019 Supreme Court Fellows Program, she digs deep into why she writes for young people.

In the full program, she also discussed her memoir, “My Beloved World,” and the process of adapting it for younger readers. “My [book for adults] had too many sophisticated concepts. [The publisher] wanted a middle school book that dealt more with the stories that children could more easily understand. I realized that would be a book that was equally as important.” She followed the middle school adaptation with the release for elementary readers, “Turning Pages.” She has since released two more books for younger readers, 2019’s “Just Ask”, in 2022’s “Just Help”.

Collections Connections

As you explore who Sonia Sotomayor with the young people in your life, explore the following resources with your family.

Dig deep into Justice Sotomayor’s writing for children in this blog post with activities based on her 2018 National Book Festival appearance below.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s presentation starts at 00:26, and timestamps for major topics are below:

• Motivation for writing for young people (3:47)
• “I am here as a Supreme Court Justice only because of books” (6:58)
• Books give you a chance to travel with the power of your imagination (10:33)
• Laws exist to help us live better together (13:04)
• Read-aloud from the book: being diagnosed with diabetes (17:32)
• Importance of diverse representation in books (23:03)
• Q&A from audience (26:55)

In 2015, Sotomayor also delivered a program about the Magna Carta for D.C. students. As she explains at starting at the 4:00 minute mark, she believes that of all nine Supreme Court justices, she was asked to do this program because she came from a background that is similar to the students.

Timestamps for the full talk are below:

• Justice Sotomayor introduces herself and her role as a Supreme Court Justice (1:06)
• The written word is one of the most important and influential tools in all of history (9:03)
• “A series of events led to the Magna Carta” (16:10)
• In 1215, the English nobles made King John promise to respect their rights by writing the Magna Carta (24:03)
• American thinkers, writers, and Founding Fathers borrowed ideas and words from the Magna Carta (28:24)
• Rights and freedoms have not always applied to all people (34:47)
• The importance of laws and the role of a judge in helping people resolve their problems peacefully (44:08)
• Questions from the audience (47:29)

The Lit Bit above highlights Sotomayor’s belief that children from her community feel represented by her. With that same goal in mind, artists from the neighborhood of the Bronx where she grew up created a community mural featuring her, which Camilo Vergara captured in a photograph that’s in the Library’s collection.

A brightly colored mural featuring the words "The Bronx" and "Soundview". A woman wearing black robes is featured prominently in the center.
Portrait of Sonia Sotomayor in a 2015 mural celebrating The Bronx. (Camilo Vergara Collection/Library of Congress).

As you reflect upon the impact of representation, we encourage a final artistic activity inspired by the photograph above. Encourage your children to think of an inspirational public figure that shares aspects of their identity. What would a mural to this person look like? Your child can create a mural at home using large sheets of paper or butcher block paper commonly available in many craft stores.

At the 2019 Supreme Court Fellows Program event, Sotomayor she wrote “tell those kids who come from circumstances similar to my own that all dreams are really possible.” As you explore these Library of Congress resources with the young people in your life, we also hope that they realize their own dreams are similarly possible.

 

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