There’s a new strong-willed young heroine in the world of children’s literature: Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In the picture book I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark (Simon & Schuster, ages 4 to 8), author Debbie Levy and illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley introduce young Ruth as a smart, vocal girl who grew up in the ’40s facing sexism, anti-Semitism and even a bias for right-handedness. “You could say that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life has been . . . one disagreement after another,” Levy observes. “This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life — and ours.” On each page, readers see Ginsburg — with the support of her mother and, later, her husband — standing up for her beliefs, especially equality of the sexes. In telling the story of Ginsburg’s career as a pioneering professor, lawyer and judge, Levy’s message is clear: Respectful disagreements and arguments are part of a healthy democracy. One lively double-page spread, for example, features Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justice who died in February, on one side in a heated debate, and on the other enjoying each other’s company on vacation, parasailing and elephant-riding (in a bit of artistic license, even the elephant is smiling.) The book’s final pages fill out the details of Ginsburg’s biography, including early photos and information on some of her most important court cases. Now widely admired as “Notorious RBG,” Ginsburg may now see her fan base get even younger.
Yoshio is a boy a bit like Charles Ives: so delighted by sounds that when he opens the front door of his house it’s as if he is beginning a symphony. Young readers of Katrina Goldsaito’s graceful The Sound of Silence (Little, Brown, ages 3 to 8) will understand that for Yoshio, the sound of everyday things is like music. The sound of his boots sloshing through puddles on city streets makes him giggle — and hearing himself giggle makes Yoshio laugh even more. Yoshio is in search of an elusive sound, the sound of “ma.” An elderly musician tells him it is her favorite, most beautiful sound: She calls it the sound of silence. Yoshio listens for it everywhere and finds even more sounds than he expected. Goldsaito’s gentle prose and Julia Kuo’s vivid woodblock-style illustrations of Tokyo’s busy avenues, the bamboo grove next to Yoshio’s school, the crowded train station and the rooms of Yoshio’s house beckon the reader into Yoshio’s world of sound. He hears his noisy family at the dinner table, a neighbor’s dog barking in the early morning, his indoor school shoes shuffling in an empty classroom. So intent is his listening that the moment when Yoshio finds that he can hear the silence feels like a treasure — or a perfect note.
In his foreword to The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine, ages 7 and up), Neil Gaiman refers to author and illustrator Tan’s “peculiar and singular vision.” “Ever-evolving” and “deliciously confounding” would also suit. Over the years, in addition to picture books, Tan has created a touching wordless portrait of immigration, “The Arrival” (2007), and the surreal contemporary landscape of “Tales From Outer Suburbia” (2009). In this collection, he pairs extracts from 75 classic fairy tales gathered by the Brothers Grimm with images of his stylized papier-mache-and-clay figures. The stunning marriage of words and sculpture is compelling, unsettling. We thought we knew these narratives — and all the sanitized Disney and Andrew Lang versions — but now we peer at the artwork, shaken from our complacency. We read “Briar Rose” and “Little Red Cap,” and gaze at the images, respectively, of a white face embedded in a flower, and a tiny child atop a large, sleek wolf, and we experience the hauntingly strange that often courses below what, on the surface, seems familiar. And there is never complete closure and understanding, only the next excerpt, the next powerful moment, like another turn in a twisting path, that beckons us, ever deeper, into a primal world. Tan drew from “The Complete Fairy Tales,” translated by Jack Zipes, who provides a short history of the Grimm tales at the beginning of Tan’s book.
On Oct. 6 at 10:30 a.m., Debbie Levy will be at Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW.