I am incredibly fortunate to have grown up in a family of readers, but my maternal and paternal grandmothers may take the cakes… One was actually a school librarian, and the other (who is 91!) still ravenously reads just about every book that has been published, it seems! Fortunately, our girls are lucky enough to know their 91-year-old great-grandmother, and even more fortunately, she loves to gift them books. When our older daughter turned 6 this past May, she received Sisters: Venus and Serena Williams by Jeanette Winter from her great-grandmother, and it was an instant hit!
When we first read Sisters, my girls knew little about tennis and even less about the Williams sisters. Yet, they still loved this book. They loved the colorful illustrations and the fact that it was a story about sisters. They asked questions about the Williams’ background, wondering things such as why Venus and Serena had to share a bed, why the big boys in the neighborhood scowl, and what gunfire was. Their understanding of the world was broadened in a very gentle way, and they built empathy. For my husband and me, we couldn’t ask for much more!
Then, my husband decided to learn to play tennis, and I decided to dust of my rackets and re-learn how to play (turns out it’s been a very long time since junior year of high school!). Our older tried a few very sweet children’s clinics at our courts and had a blast! And, we all watched Serena’s amazing run in the U.S. Open together.
And lo and behold, during one of Serena’s matches, the girls fished Sisters: Venus and Serena Williams out of a closet (it was currently out of rotation — click here for some information about how and why we rotate books), and we’ve been reading it at least once per day for the last two weeks. Now that the girls have a context for tennis, they are beginning to understand the power, strength, and hard work the Williams’ accomplishments took. We talk about what people must do in order to overcome illness and come back stronger. I ask how it would feel to play in front of a big crowd of people who look different than they do, and how it would feel to play in front of an even bigger crowd of people in one of the biggest tournaments of the year. And we always cycle back to hard work and perseverance.
Jeanette Winter and Beach Lane Books, thank you for this inspirational picture book biography! Have any of you read any of Winter’s other picture book biographies? Looks like she’s written and/or illustrated a bunch of great ones, but the only one I’ve read is Wangari’s Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa.
PS — Aren’t those the cutest tiny tennis rackets you’ve ever seen? If you’re not sure if your little one is going to like tennis, or you just want them to be able to swing something made just for them without breaking the bank to do it, you can check them out here and here!