Some of us are lucky enough to find time just to hit the gym after work, but U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has somehow written several books. In addition to her two memoirs — 2014’s My Beloved World and The Beloved World of Sonia Sotomayor — she has also authored two children’s books: 2018’s Turning Pages: My Life Story and her most recent work, last year’s Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, in collaboration with illustrator Rafael López.
As discussed in an interview on NPR, Sotomayor’s newest youth-oriented book is about 12 differently abled children who, while working together, plant a garden. Some children in Just Ask! have different characteristics on the autism spectrum, and one has asthma. Just Ask! encourages the reader to inquire about the differences among the characters instead of assuming and forming opinions.
“Just the way gardens have different plants and different trees and different kinds of flowers and different birds and animals that populate the garden, we in our society have different kinds of people too doing different kinds of things,” Sotomayor said. “This will help see things from a different perspective and form a healthy friendship that can highlight the difference that make us who we are.”
Just Ask! was inspired in part by Sotomayor’s experience living with type 1 diabetes and a particular incident at a restaurant involving her regular insulin injection before meals. A woman walked into the restroom as Sotomayor was walking out after having just taken her insulin. Later in the evening, as the Supreme Court justice was leaving the restaurant, she overheard the woman say Sotomayor was “a drug addict.”
She replied, “Madam, I am not a drug addict. I am diabetic, and that injection you saw me give to myself is insulin. It’s the medicine that keeps me alive. If you don’t know why someone is doing something, just ask them. Don’t assume the worst in people.” This plea for communication is the central point of Just Ask: Had that woman simply spoken with Sotomayor about the injection, the embarrassing mishap could have been avoided. In a 2019 discussion at the Miami Book Fair, Sotomayor said, “The shame should be in not asking; the shame should always be in remaining ignorant because you choose not to ask why.”
She’ll return to Miami next Tuesday, January 28, to discuss Just Ask! at Temple Judea in Coral Gables. The Books & Books-hosted evening will see Sotomayor joined by Miami music legend Gloria Estefan. The two will have a candid discussion from 7 to 9 p.m.
Sotomayor is revered for her well-structured and forthright opinions that are devoid of flowery language and nebulous penumbras; her dissenting opinion in Trump v. Hawaii — more colloquially known as the “Trump Travel Ban” case — was referenced extensively in the media. Her legal opinions eschew academic jargon and technical language in favor of a style the American public can understand. And though children’s books and legal opinions might seem wholly dissimilar, Sotomayor believes writing for young audiences has helped to make her written explanations more accessible to a wider audience.
“Most people read opinions about legal issues from what? Television and the newspapers,” the justice said in the aforementioned Miami Book Fair discussion. “But how can you have a conversation about something if you haven’t read the thinking that led people to their outcomes?”
An Evening With Sonia Sotomayor in Conversation With Gloria Estefan. Hosted by Books & Books. 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 28, at Temple Judea, 5500 Granada Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-667-5657; booksandbooks.com. Tickets via eventbrite.com are sold out.