Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You By Sonia Sotomayor, Illustrated by Rafael López (2019) – hardcover
What a wonderfully inclusive book by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor! She penned a heartfelt opening letter to describe her inspiration for “Just Ask!” At the age of seven, Sotomayor was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Ever since, she has given herself daily insulin shots. As a child, other kids would stare at her as she injected herself, making her feel different and odd. She wrote this book for all children that have ever felt “different.”
The story is about a group of diverse friends that come together to build an equally diverse garden. I must note that I appreciated the inclusion of “ethnic-sounding” names like Arturo, Vijay, and Anh. Not only is this book inclusive of differently-abled kids, it’s also ethnically inclusive. Each page highlights one of the children, as they introduce themselves, describe their condition, and explain how this makes them wonderfully unique. The wide array of conditions include: diabetes, asthma, paraplegia, blindness, deafness, dyslexia, autism, stuttering, Tourette’s Syndrome, ADHD, food allergies, and Down Syndrome. I found the quick descriptions to be easily digestible yet informative for children. As evidenced in the acknowledgements, Sotomayor researched extensively to ensure a sensitive and accurate portrayal of the listed conditions.
A helpful addition to every page is the interactive element of asking the reader a question. “Do you ever need to take medicine to be healthy?…Do you ever wonder if people understand you?” These thought-provoking questions keep the reader engaged and help foster introspection and discussion. Sotomayor also uses the questions to help convey her message that we all may have more in common than we think!
Award-winning illustrator Rafael López created the art using a mixed media technique. His combination of pencil, watercolor, acrylic, and digital manipulation conveys lush and engaging illustrations. His art also helps foster the warm and inclusive message intended by Sotomayor. The endsheet art is also a gem to behold!
Take-away message: It’s in the title: “Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You!” Sotomayor wants kids to feel comfortable asking questions when they don’t understand something. If it comes from a place of genuinely wanting to learn and grow, the best way to learn is to always ask questions! There is also a clear message that this book is dedicated to all children with physical conditions. Sotomayor wants these children to see themselves represented in a positive light.
Here is an excerpt of Sotomayor’s poignant message: “I hope by seeing yourself or your friends in this story, you will understand that we’re all different and you will find this notion comforting and empowering. I hope too that you will recognize what we all have in common. Instead of fearing our differences or ignoring them, we can shed light on them and explore them together.”
TAGS: diverse characters, disabilities, Sonia Sotomayor, notable POC, hardcover, Spanish edition