Monday, April 29, 2019

Sisters: Venus and Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter

I was surprised by how much I liked this picture book biography of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams, but I appreciated how nuanced it was and thought it would appeal to kids on multiple levels.

The story begins with the two sisters growing up in Compton, California. The dangers and privation of their home is hinted at with trash on the court and concentrating on the ball to ignore the sound of gunfire. The story moves through their first tournaments, where they face "a sea of white faces" and depend on each other and their focus to win. They move to Florida, grow up, and begin competing even more seriously. A series of spreads show the young women playing, their faces tense with concentration, waves of color surrounding their powerful, graceful bodies. They begin expanding their interests, but then both get sick. They continue to train, practice, and play tennis together, strong in body, mind, and family support. Jeanette Winter's powerful collages, with blocky color, blur the faces of bystanders and audiences, focusing attention on the two sisters.

The bond between sisters and their resilience in the face of challenges are understandable by kids from a variety of backgrounds. Even if they don't face the specific challenges of the sisters, they will understand the importance of working hard at something they love, building concentration, and not listening to naysayers. It's also worth noting that Winters' shows Black, athletic bodies as beautiful, focusing on the sisters' grace, strength, and abilities rather than just their physical appearance. The supportive bond between sisters is powerfully portrayed also, refusing to let their sport and competition come between them. Winter's illustrations show two powerful women, who are strong even when they are physically weak.

Verdict: A great read-aloud for a variety of ages, this will appeal to kids who are interested in sports as well as those with siblings. Both inspiring and realistic about challenges in life, it features two powerful women who work together to support each other, their families, and make a difference in the world.

ISBN: 9781534431218; Published April 2019 by Beach Lane Books; F&G provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library

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