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In kids’ book, Sotomayor asks: Whom have you helped today?

Jessica Gresko

WASHINGTON (AP) – “Whom have I helped today?” That’s the question Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor tells kids she asks herself every night before she goes to sleep.

Her new children’s book, Just Help! How to Build a Better World, challenges kids to ask how they will help, too. The book came out on Tuesday and is Sotomayor’s third book for young readers.

In the book, children help in a variety of ways: sending care packages to American soldiers overseas, recycling plastic bags, cleaning up a park, donating toys to a children’s hospital and encouraging others to vote.

“I want kids to do this intentionally, to think that this is a requirement of living almost, that trying to figure out how they will make a better world should be a part of the charge of their living,” said Sotomayor, 67, in a telephone interview ahead of the book’s publication.

Sotomayor said she wants kids not only to help family and friends but also to “think about how to help neighbours and how to help our community, and that it takes active thought and active action to change the world”.

Sonia Sotomayor holds her new children’s book ‘Just Help!’ on Capitol Hill in Washington. PHOTO: AP

The story starts with Sotomayor as a child being asked by her mother how she will help that day and follows her and other kids as they find ways to assist. Sotomayor tells readers that she remembers throughout her childhood seeing her mother helping others, both as a nurse and in the community where she lived in the Bronx.

Sotomayor’s mom, Celina Baez Sotomayor, died last year and is the inspiration for Sotomayor’s next book, tentatively titled Just Shine, she said. The book will talk about how her mother “let others shine”, Sotomayor said. “That’s how she approached the world.”

Sotomayor said losing her mother has been “a difficult blow”, but “being able to speak about how she inspired my life of service” seemed to be “a wonderful way to pay her tribute”. There’s a subtle tribute in her new book, too. An older man named John who encourages kids to vote is her nod to the late John Lewis, whom Sotomayor said she “greatly admired”.

Sotomayor’s other books include Turning Pages: My Life Story and Just Ask! Be Different, Be Brave, Be You, about children with challenges including autism, dyslexia and Down syndrome. All the books by the court’s first Latina justice have also been published in Spanish.

Sotomayor’s last book Just Ask grew out of her experience living with diabetes, which she was diagnosed with as a child. It’s a topic that’s newly relevant for many young people. A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report found that children who had COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as those who had not had the virus.