Sonia Sotomayor Wrote a Children’s Book as an Ode to Her Late Mother: ‘She Made the World a Better Place’
You may think of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court Justice and nothing else, but she’s so much more than that. She is a first-generation self-described Nuyorican, a sister, a daughter and an author.
That’s right, Justice Sotomayor has written five books — a few of which are translated to Spanish — and the most recent one being the children’s picture book, “Just Help! How to Build a Better World” (illustrated by award-winning Latina artist Angela Dominguez). The book follows Sotomayor’s 2019 picture book “Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You.”
According to Penguin Random House, “Just Help” is about “how we can all help make the world a better place each and every day.” “Just Help” is loosely based on Sotomayor’s childhood, growing up in housing projects in the Bronx.
“Every night when Sonia goes to bed, Mami asks her the same question: How did you help today?” reads the book’s description. “And since Sonia wants to help her community, just like her Mami does, she always makes sure she has a good answer to Mami’s question.”
And while, on the surface, the book is about the power of kindness and community service, the creation of the book also served as a healing tool for Sotomayor in the wake of the death of her mother, Celina Sotomayor, from cancer in July.
From Justice Sotomayor’s own account, she had a complicated relationship with her mother — a woman who Sonia viewed as cold and distant during her upbringing.
It was only when Sotomayor was older that she recognized that her mother’s character was a trauma-response both to her tough childhood as an orphan in Puerto Rico and a way of coping with her husband’s (Sonia’s father) alcoholism.
“It was only when I had the strength and purpose to talk about the cold expanse between us that she confessed her emotional limitations in a way that called me to forgiveness,” Justice Sotomayor explained in her 2013 memoir, “My Beloved World.”
“‘How should I know these things, Sonia?'” Celina had asked her daughter. “‘Whoever showed me how to be warm when I was young?'”
After Sotomayor grew up, she healed her relationship with her mother, and gave her credit for instilling in her a work ethic, a love of education, and her ceaseless drive to serve others.
In an interview with People magazine, Sotomayor described her mother as a woman who “day after day and person by person… made her neighborhood, her city and the wider world a better place.”
In the same interview, Sotomayor revealed that her final days with her mother were bittersweet, full of joyous moments mixed with the general sadness of her mother’s impending death.
Her favorite memory of those final months with her mother? Her mother’s enduring desire to dance.
“She could barely walk and a friend came over and started a little song and said, ‘Celina, dance.’ And my mother stood in place and moved her hips and her legs and then got a smile on her face,” Sotomayor told People.
Sotomayor believes her mother is the reason she continues to strive for a better world. “I have eternal optimism, and I think that’s a product of how vibrant a person my own mother was,” she says.