Three Questions With Debbie Levy

In each installment of "Three Questions With," we get to know a different PJ Library celebrity by asking about their work, process, and interests. Today we're chatting with Debbie Levy, author of our award-winning 2017 selection, I Dissent, a biography of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Why write a children’s book about Justice Ginsburg?

You mean other than that I’m a woman, a lawyer, a Jew, a supporter of progress and equal opportunity, a proponent of stories and books for kids that get them thinking about justice and tolerance and their own capacity to make their lives, and the lives of others, better? 

I also think Justice Ginsburg is such a great role model for kids. She’s been dissenting from outmoded ways of thinking and from injustice since she was a kid herself. The story of her life offers an inspiring and important lesson: disagreeing doesn’t make you disagreeable, and important change often happens one disagreement at a time. She has been a change-maker and a path-breaker through her lifelong practice of taking on conventional thinking and of calling out injustice where she sees it.

What can children--and grownups--learn from Justice Ginsburg and her life?

Her example shows that you can disagree and make change happen without resorting to personal attacks, and without closing yourself off to opposing points of view. One of my favorite page spreads in the book shows her and the late Justice Antonin Scalia vociferously disagreeing--they disagreed profoundly on important legal issues—and yet, on the facing page, maintaining a close friendship.

Justice Ginsburg's lifetime of disagreeing, resisting, persisting, not concurring, and dissenting--all without trash-talking or hurling invective--is a great model for girls and boys who find themselves facing circumstances they believe are unjust or wrong. Don’t stay silent in the face of injustice! Speak out! And find ways to make your dissents flower into something productive.


How did you get started writing children's books?

Writing books for children is the only job I’ve held for more than six years. I was a lawyer at a big Washington, D.C. law firm and a newspaper editor--each for six years. Then I took a class in writing for children at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland with the excellent Mary Quattlebaum. (Check out her books and her reviewing work!).

I soon realized that writing for children was a vocation with long-term potential! I started with stories published in Highlights magazine. Then I wrote a fun guidebook to D.C. for children, part of a series published by a small publisher. Then on to nonfiction for publishers in the school and library market with titles as diverse as Bigotry and Sunken Treasure and The World Trade Center--and four biographies of presidents. From there, I moved on to novels, poetry, and nonfiction for so-called trade publishers--that is, publishers whose books you find in bookstores as well as libraries.

I love writing books for young people, and it’s now been far more than six years since I’ve been doing it!

And now, a bonus! We asked Debbie for some tips for kids who want to be authors and biographers. You can read that in Part 2 of this interview, here.

For a sneak peak at more of our 2017 books, click here.

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