Review: RBG's Brave and Brilliant Women

RBG's Brave and Brilliant Women

by Nadine Epstein, illustrated by Bee Johnson

Delacorte Press (Penguin Random House)

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Stacy Nockowitz

Nadine Epstein’s RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women takes full advantage of its association with the iconic Supreme Court justice named in its title. Ruth Bader Ginsburg not only wrote the introduction for this book– in the year of her death, no less– but she also played a large role in selecting the women whose biographies Epstein highlights. Justice Ginsburg’s introduction is short but excellent. She discusses two of her personal heroines, Emma Lazarus and Henrietta Szold, and she inspires readers to seek out role models of their own. The Jewish women profiled in RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women run the gamut from familiar (Anne Frank, Judy Resnik) to more obscure (Glükel of Hameln). Young readers, though, may only recognize the names of a few of the thirty-three women. The short biographies run chronologically, moving from Biblical times all the way up to the late 20th century. Including figures like Miriam and Deborah is an interesting choice, as we have no hard evidence that these women actually existed, but their Biblical stories show them as courageous women worthy of study. All of the women in the book overcame tremendous odds to become successful leaders, scientists, businesswomen, and champions of the less fortunate. Each profile is accompanied by one of Bee Johnson’s bold illustrations on a jewel-toned, stylized background. Readers will enjoy studying the illustrations as much as reading the biographies. RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women would make a great bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah gift. It’s a handsome volume with well-written pieces on women whose stories will motivate today’s Jewish youth to greatness.
RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women is filled with well-researched Jewish content. The book will edify Jewish girls and boys alike. I do wish the book had highlighted more Jewish women of color, but it certainly does a fine job of discussing women of Ashkenzi, Sephardi, and Middle Eastern descent. The final pages are a call to action, because while Jewish women have come a long way in the fight for justice and equality, there is still much work to be done. The book will spur young Jewish people today to be like RBG: brave and brilliant. RBG’s Brave and Brilliant Women should absolutely be considered for the Sydney Taylor Book Award. 
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Reviewer Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher. She holds Master's Degrees from Columbia University and Kent State University, and is an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her debut middle grade novel, The Prince of Steel Pier, comes out in September 2022 from Kar-Ben Books. Find her on Twitter @snockowitz or visit