Friday, November 12, 2010



SONIA SOTOMAYOR: SUPREME COURT JUSTICE (by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand) is a 2010 nominee for the CYBILS nonfiction picture book. I opened it expecting a biography. And it is a biography, but it's a biography told in verse. Twenty-seven free verse poems tell the stories of key events and memories from Sonia Sotomayor's life--her birth in New York City, ordinary events such as playing bingo with her younger brother, her diagnosis of diabetes in third grade, the loss of her beloved papi, learning to read, fighting for civil rights as a student at Princeton, negotiating the baseball strike in 199and finally, her appointment as a Supreme Court Justice. So you can get the feel of the book:

From "As American as Mango Pie"
…Sonia Sotomayor is a Nuyorican,
as American as mango pie."

From "Reading in English"
Sonia's fingertips trace each word.
Maybe her teacher won't call on her…
Sonia's shameful secret:
Words in English have no meaning.

And then a little later, "A Nuyorican Nancy Drew"
Sonia lends Junior her Casper and Archie comics.
She buries herself in Nancy Drew books,
dreams of becoming a detective like Nancy.

From the final poem in the book, "Who Am I?"
"'Who am I? I am a Nuyorican,
a born and bred New Yorker
raised by Puerto Rican parents.'
On August 6, 2009, the Senate votes.
Sonia Sotomayor,
as American as mango pie,
is the first Latina Justice
to be elected to the Supreme Court
of the United States.

In addition to the poems, this book has several great appendices- a more "traditional" prose biography, a glossary of the Spanish words, a timeline, and a bibliography.

This is a book I would love to have in any intermediate grade/YA collection. First, it contains great information about a VIW (very important woman) in American history. The childhood events chosen by Bernier-Grand are engaging and would provide kids with places to connect with Sotomayor's life. Her childhood was difficult- she grew up poor, she was diagnosed with diabetes, her father died, she had to go to work at a young age-- this sounds a lot like the kids I teach.

I could also see using this very unique format as a mentor text during a multi-genre autobiography or biography unit. At the beginning of the year, kids could identify key events from their own lives and write free verse poems, then create a time line, and maybe write a prose piece. Later in the year, they could research other people and develop a time line. From there, they could select key events and write short free verse poems. The time line and poems would give kids more experience and familiarity with the topic, and then they might be ready to write the prose pieces with more voice and originality than the "copying from books/cut and paste Wikipedia" report that often wanders into tweenish research projects.

There is nothing better than a little poetry and nonfiction mixed!

POETRY FRIDAY is here today.


Andromeda Jazmon said...

Thank you for highlighting this book. I don't know how I've missed it up to now. It looks great and I am going to get a copy for our library.

Mary Lee said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE poetry and NF mash-ups. Gotta look for this one!