Have you ever come across someone who looks different than you? I’m not referring to skin tone, hair texture or features that may affect physical appearance. The observation of how another person is dissimilar to you in the way they act, speak, walk or behave – do these things make you uncomfortable? Perhaps, seeing an individual with Down or Tourette’s syndrome, autism, or with an abnormal twitch can trigger slight resistance from you. Are you guilty of hesitation or forming bias opinions that can affect how you see others unlike you?
Sonia Sotomayor was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of seven. She recalls having to take insulin shots as part of her treatment. One day while in a New York restaurant, she was found giving herself a shot in the ladies’ bathroom. The female patron did not realize young Sotomayor was giving herself an injection of the insulin needed to treat her disease. It was daunting to hear the woman utter “she’s a drug addict” as she left the establishment. The woman did not get away with her insinuations, Sotomayor made sure to put her in her place by explaining that she was not an addict, she was taking medicine for her diabetic condition. People often make guesses without having all the facts, it’s sometimes second nature. We might not realize when and how often we take these liberties as adults. Instead of asking – it is assumed.
Now, imagine children and how they handle the differences among peers. Whether dyslexia, epilepsy or handicap, a number of these challenges can create chaos in a child’s life. A child may alienate another for a simple lack of understanding. We don’t train our children to “just ask” why someone is not like them instead we let them stare in quiet confusion. Most people perceive questions as invasive, an overstepping of boundaries. It is how we usually handle the discomfort while acknowledging differences.
Sonia Sotomayor has been wanting this project to come to fruition for a long time. Her experience as a child inspired her to write this book as a way to celebrate differences. Just Ask! is a book about children with disparate needs working together in a community garden. The challenges among the kids in the group is reflected in some disability but hold an individual power instead of a setback or flaw.
The author makes the case for how the things that make us different also make us stronger. The world is more colorful and amazing because of the variations that exist among us. Learning to appreciate this great contrast is one of the most amazing gifts we have been given.
Just Ask has been well-received by readers, young and old. Kirkus Reviews gave the book praises, calling it “An affirmative, delightfully diverse overview of disabilities.” As a mother, and a Latina woman, I can certainly understand the obsession behind the wonderful concept for a book. It is one of kindness and compassion towards all those who are different and beautiful, too.