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Justice Sotomayor honors her mom in 'Just Help! How to Build a Better World'

"It’s the little things each of us do every day to improve our communities,” the Supreme Court's only Latina justice said about the message in her new children's book.
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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor is honoring the memory of her mother Celina Báez, who died last year, with a new children's book focusing on teaching about civic participation in everyday life.

Sotomayor's fourth children's book "Just Help! How to Build a Better World" features a young Sonia as her mother, or Mami, asks her, "How will you help today?" on a daily basis.

“People think about civic participation as just limited to being an elected official ... or maybe the people who go into the military,” Sotomayor said in an interview with "TODAY" host Savannah Guthrie. “Kids, and many adults, don’t realize that public service is not just those big acts of getting elected and making changes that way. But it’s the little things each of us do every day to improve our communities.”

Since making history as the first Hispanic and the third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Sotomayor has emerged as a strong liberal voice.

Last week, she wrote a blistering dissent calling a case involving Texas’ restrictive abortion law a “disaster” and a “grave disservice to women in Texas."

But her long journey to the high court started when she was a child in the Bronx, a heavily Hispanic New York City borough, facing an upbringing that came with its own hardships.

In the book, illustrator Angela Dominguez gives young readers a glimpse of the community where Sotomayor, whose parents were from Puerto Rico, was born and raised.

Image: Sonia Sotomayor
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor holds her new children's book "Just Help!" on Capitol Hill.Carolyn Kaster / AP

Living in a housing project blocks away from Yankee Stadium, Sotomayor faced serious illness, poverty and a one-parent household after the death of her father, who had a history of alcoholism. At age 7, she was diagnosed with life-threatening juvenile diabetes and had to inject insulin shots herself.

However, her intelligence at a young age was evident. Sotomayor's academic achievements led her to Princeton and Yale Law School. She then went on to become the first Hispanic judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“Changes in the world don’t always happen in giant leaps. It takes every one of us purposely looking at the world around us and say, how do I make it better?” Sotomayor said about her book. “If we each did that, we would be living in a better world.”

According to Gallup’s annual governance survey, conducted in September, 53 percent of Americans say they disapprove of the job the Supreme Court is doing.

"I do need to discuss this, a little bit, with the public to assure them that one of the hardest things about our work is that there are no easy answers. Reasonable people can disagree," Sotomayor told "TODAY" when asked about the issue.

“I think all of us worry about that," she said about the people's apparent lack of trust.

While Sotomayor is mostly recognized by her sharply worded dissents and court opinions, she said that "it's somehow harder to write a children's book than an adult book."

"In a children's book, you have to think about every word. You are limited to 1,800 or 1,900 words, and every word has to mean something. It has to convey an image to a child that they can see clearly in their own minds. And for that reason, it's a harder book to write," said Sotomayor, who also wrote a memoir, “My Beloved World,” in 2014.

When asked about how her mother would feel about her newest book, Sotomayor responded, "She would have been just delighted."

"This morning mom would’ve woken up with a big smile," she said.

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