PB Biographies – Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams
I added Lesa Cline-Ransome’s and James E. Ransome’s Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams to my first bookstore orders of pb biographies, and I am so glad I did.
Picture book biographies of one person require the author to wander through mounds of research, sort out big stories and little stories, delve into personality, and find a way in that will engage a young reader and keep them engaged. And that’s true when you’re writing a biography of one person. I think the most amazing thing about Game Changers is the way Lesa Cline-Ransome weaves the complexities and layers of two amazing women into the book. She never drops down into over-simplification, but somehow integrates every element seamlessly into the forward-moving story.
If I had to say, in a few words, what this book is about, I’d say it’s about the love of Venus and Serena for the sport of tennis and the love Venus and Serena have for each other. Not only does Cline-Ransome achieve absolute balance between the two threads, but she manages to capture what I imagine is a truth of the Williams’ lives.
Serena and Venus Williams have shown their absolute commitment to playing their best possible game of tennis every time they step on a court. Simultaneously, each is dedicated to being their sister’s best friend and strongest supporter, even when they are standing on opposite sites of the net.
Cline-Ransome achieves the book’s balance by a sort of “take-turn” structure that, I think, intentionally mirrors the pace of two players warming up before a match. She spends a few words, a page or two, focusing in tightly on the tennis thread–the hard work that started when the women were young children, the determination with which they put in hour after hour on the court. Then she shifts to the way the sisters were constantly together, excluding their individual names from many pages and using instead the plural they. And throughout the book, she touches lightly but firmly on pieces of their story that are not easy and, often, not complimentary to the world of tennis.
The story builds with the women’s success, to a climax of three matches they played in 1998, 2000, and 2002. Venus beats Serena in the first match at the Australian open. They play doubles together in the 2000 Olympics and walked off the court with two gold medals. And in 2002, Serena beats Venus at the French open. Reading the pages feels like you’re in the stands, watching a three-set match, if an imaginary match in which the second set ends in deuce. A match where Cline-Ransome’s “ball” goes back and forth between the two woman as smoothly as one of their rallies.
Yes, I, too, can occasionally resort to sport metaphors.
At the very end (spoiler alert), Cline-Ransome brings the two loves–the loves of sport and sister–together in three incredible paragraphs.
…Venus served big for the second set and took the lead, but Serena broke serve and won. The second set was hard fought, and the sisters rallied with down-the-line combinations, skidding from sideline to baseline until the final match point, when Venus cracked the ball into the net and the moment belonged to Serena. In two sets of 7-5 and 6-3, a victorious Serena stepped out of the shadow of her sister.
Turn the page…
Venus ran off the court as the curious eyes of the crowd followed her. High into the stands Venus sprinted, snatched up her bag, and pulled out a camera.
“Nothing can keep me from celebrating when my best friend wins a match,” Venus said proudly.
I closed this book with a sigh of utter satisfaction.
A note about the illustrations: I wish I knew enough to describe what
James E. Ransome has done with his art. Every page shines with beauty and energy and emotion. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite, but this one stunned me when I first saw it and continues to draw me back to look at it again and again.