Ruth Bader Ginsburg Couldn’t Drive? by Dan Gutman (Norton Young Readers, 2022) is a part of the Wait! What? series by the creator of the popular My Weird School series (and a number of other fun middle-grade books). In this kid-friendly middle-grade biography, two kids, named appropriately Paige and Turner, teach the reader all about the life and influence of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. With cute black-and-white illustrations and dialog-based discussion, the text approaches the topic with plenty of light-hearted jokes and banter. There are tons of fun facts, including the titular fact that RBG was such a horrendous driver that her loved ones refused to let her do so.
Some kids may like the approach, which would better invite them into the story of RBG’s life. Occasional bullet-point pages provide lists with timeline events, historical events, and relevant facts to RBG’s era, and each two-page spread provides at least one cartoon illustration of either an amusing situation told in the text or a relevant quote from RBG or another historical figure. For struggling or disinterested readers, reading a biography might otherwise be dull and tedious. Maybe, for them, the kids’ humor in RBG Couldn’t Drive would keep them reading.
However, from my perspective as a parent (and former homeschool teacher), I felt Ruth Bader Ginsburg Couldn’t Drive was a distracting book as a biography. The jokes actually detracted from her story. When a page (six back-and-forth lines of dialog) jokes about whether you like prunes (literally nothing to do with RBG’s story), it may frustrate a struggling reader as they try to keep the thread of conversation. Further, an ending additional facts chapter seemed like an “I can one-up you!” contest between the kids, who are supposedly just now learning and sharing what they’d learned about RBG. A fact dump doesn’t seem a helpful approach to teaching concepts from an important person’s life. Some other chapters likewise seemed a bit too full of facts rather than banter and the contrast didn’t work for me.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Couldn’t Drive is certainly a unique approach for the middle-grade biography sphere. While the concept is good, it seems to fall a little short of the mark. I would not personally recommend such a biography to the readers I know, but it may be I haven’t met the kid this book would be the perfect fit.
Note: I received a digital copy of this book for review consideration.