Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor Shares How Her New Children's Book Will Help Kids Build a Better World

Communities need everyone (kids included) to do their part, the justice says in her new picture book, Just Help!: How to Build a Better World.

Sonia Sotomayor
Photo: Courtesy of Sonia Sotomayor

When Sonia Sotomayor was growing up, her mom, a nurse, asked her daily, "How will you help today?" The routine question, along with her mom's own charitable actions, inspired Just Help!: How to Build a Better World, the latest picture book by the Supreme Court justice. (Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You was published in 2019.) "Even on her time off, my mom cared for others," Sotomayor says. "She taught me to see dignity in all persons and to be attuned to their needs." From that evolved the book's message for families: Caring about your neighborhood and working to improve it is an important part of belonging to your community.

Did you read a lot as a kid?

I was a passionate reader. I loved how books could teach you new things and transport you to new places. The library was one of my favorite places to explore. As a young child, I especially enjoyed Dr. Seuss books. The rhymes made me laugh. I spoke Spanish before I spoke English, and the Dr. Seuss books showed me how to have fun with words in English.

Is there a book character who inspired you?

The first chapter books I ever read were the books in the Nancy Drew mystery series. The protagonist is a young teenager with a lot of spunk, energy, and curiosity about the world around her. She also wants to help people. She quickly became a role model for me. Every night, I would fall asleep imagining myself in her shoes. I even dreamt of owning a sports car like the one she had. Eventually, I got a red one, but not a blue one like Nancy's.

Just Help! book
Courtesy of Philomel Books

Do you have a favorite book from high school?

When I was a teen, I read Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. That book taught me how important laws are in helping us live together in a peaceful way. For our community to function, people need to cooperate and work together. The stability of our society depends on our mutual respect for each other and the law.

What's on your nightstand now?

When I am not reading law-related books, I read fantasies about dragons and elves for enjoyment. Fantasies offer an enjoyable escape from everyday reality. They can also touch on some very important truths about life.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

The world is a wonderful home for all of us, and we are each responsible for making it a better place for everyone. We can help in ways big and small. I hope this book shows families how important it is to participate in building a better world together. I want us all to feel moved to act for the good of others.

What's the most memorable piece of mail you've received from a child?

A child who had visited my Chambers wrote, "I want to be a federal judge like you. You have a job for life. You can eat whatever you want, like the pizza I saw in your office. And people laugh at your jokes, even when they are not funny." Her letter reminded me that I should remain humble and never let my head swell or take for granted the enormous respect people give to me because of my position.

This article originally appeared in Parents magazine's January/February 2022 issue as "Sonia Sotomayor's Supreme Advice."

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