Judson states in a foreword that she wrote Mr. Justice Holmes, a 1957 Newbery Medal Honor Book, to foster respect for the law among young people. Because the law is complex and remote from youthful experience, she sought to represent legal ideas concretely in the life of a person. Holmes is her exemplar. In telling his story, she writes as an omniscient narrator, recounting small personal incidents, supplying dialogue, and sustaining a theme of dramatic tension between Holmes and his father. She does not discuss her sources, or their limits. She provides little direct exposition of legal issues or practice, relying mainly, instead, on information implied by her narrative of events.
In seeking to make ideas accessible by embedding them in a personal story, Judson follows a well-established tradition in young adult literature. Yet it is a tactic that has its limits. Judson’s chapter on Holmes’s years in Washington, D.C., for example, recounts his arrival there as a newcomer, with his subsequent outings to the zoo, with nearly as much attention as it pays to his work on the Supreme Court. The problem of balance that Judson contended with in this regard is a difficult one, especially given the nature—potentially dry and cerebral—of her topic.
People who write biographies for young adults must also deal with potential problems deriving from the need to treat their subjects selectively. Not everything can be told about an important...
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