Behind the Book: You Are a Star Ruth Bader Ginsburg
last updated 31 March 2022
Telling a strong, influential woman’s story through illustration isn’t easy - but Bright artist Sarah Green is well aquainted with the task. From a world-renowned French chef to a former Supreme Court Justice, Green has beautifully brought to life the story of many women we celebrate this International Women’s Month. We had the chance to talk more with Sarah about her recent book You Are a Star: Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the behind the scenes details in illustrating a legend’s story. We hope you enjoy!
What was your experience in visually developing this character throughout the story?
As this book was going to follow an entire lifespan, I really wanted the seasons to be a major element thematically. Even though it’s not obvious in every spread, there was a general arc of each season repeating throughout the book. The book opens in late summer/early fall, meant to represent a time before school started, where kids experience the freedom to run around and explore.
When she falls in love, it’s spring, represented by new growth. By the time the book wraps up, it’s autumn— a season of change, which RBG strove to bring into her career. I always try to have a secondary narrative happening as an undercurrent to the text.
As she is a cultural icon, did you find it daunting to illustrate Ruth Bader Ginsburg and tell her story through your art?
Yes! The easier part was drawing her as a young girl, because obviously she’s more recognizable as an older woman. There were also a lot of reference photos of her available, which helped. I’ve done books on historical figures who either have no surviving portraits or only one at a specific stage of their life.
Between Brian La Rossa, my editor, and Dean Robbins, the writer, we had a lot of conversations about Ruth’s personality, her relationship with her family, and her sense of humor, which is often not discussed when thinking about her life. So it was really important we made her a little goofy, nerdy, and a bit weird. Dean’s writing really humanized her beyond just her accomplishments, so I wanted to echo that. She did great things, but she was also a nerdy kid.
What made you want to take on this project?
Biographical books tend to be fairly linear storytelling. Though this makes sense, this particular book was so special because there was an inspiration from comic book panels. It was an opportunity to tell stories-within-stories, which is my favorite aspect of illustration, but it was also a challenge to work at a different narrative scale and play with a different format.
I think it’s an honor to be asked to tell anyone’s story, but I was especially grateful to be offered a role in this book. Partially because she’s such an iconic person who paved the way for many more after her, but also because her life, specifically, as a Jewish woman meant a lot to me. Her family story is very similar to my own.
Do you have a favorite illustration or spread? Why is that one near and dear to you?
I think my favorite spread was the one with the most seasons in it! I get attached to my background concepts and I loved playing with the metaphorical seasonal aspect.
What message do you hope You Are a Star, and the other books you have illustrated highlighting powerful women, sends to young readers this Women’s History Month?
What I love about doing picture book biographies is that they humanize famous figures for all readers, often showing them as awkward kids before they were famous people. I think it’s really important for children to realize that so many of their heroes were kids too, so they can feel like their own dreams are attainable. I also learn from every story and figure I illustrate. I love getting to delve into their worlds, their backstories, and the time period.
Share a little more about other titles you have recently published with Bright.
I also illustrated another picture book biography, Born Hungry which was published in February 2022 by Boyds Mill Kane. It is about Julia Child, and like the RBG book, really humanizes her and her journey. I also got to draw a lot of food, which I discovered I love doing. It was really different for me and I had a great time. I would love to do an illustrated cookbook.
What do we have to look forward to from you in the future?
I have a few books coming up! I’m working right now on a book about one of the first female inventors, Josephine Cochrane, and next up is a book about the author and poet Sidney Taylor. Afterwards I’m working on a book about Maria Pepe, who was one of the first girls to play Little League.
Miss last month’s Types of Love blog? Click here to see beautiful heart-filled illustrations! Check back each month to learn more about our artists and how they came to shine so bright.