Serena: The Littlest Sister

by Karlin Gray (Author) Monica Ahanonu (Illustrator)

Serena: The Littlest Sister
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
Serena Williams is one of the biggest names in sports, but she grew up the littlest of five girls in her family. While sharing a room and playing tennis with her older sisters, Serena had to figure out how to be her own person--on and off the court. This empowering biography showcases the rise of the youngest Williams sister and how her family played a part in her path to becoming the strong woman and star athlete she is today. Bold, colorful illustrations highlight the tight sisterhood and tennis action of Serena's childhood and teenage years. This true story about a tennis icon will inspire littlest siblings everywhere to forge their own path and leave their mark.
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School Library Journal

Gr 1-4--Superstar Serena Williams has dominated the world of tennis for so long, her name is synonymous with excellence. The audience for this book will likely already know about her power and style, but might not know her family's remarkable story. Raised in Compton, California, Serena was the youngest of five close-knit sisters. Starting out with secondhand equipment on a court they cleaned for practice, the girls were coached by their father to move fast and hit hard. They learned to always put in their best effort, and that their dedication would allow them to achieve their dreams. Venus and Serena put that passion into becoming elite tennis players, first in California, then at a tennis academy in Florida, and finally on the professional circuit. This book splits time between Serena's career and family, focusing on how her devotion to Venus allowed both to become better athletes who supported each other while being one another's fiercest competitors. Ahanonu's digital illustrations morph from a bold palette--all 90s-inspired patterns and sharp angularity reminiscent of Keith Haring--to a more sophisticated and contemporary design filled with soft pastels as the time line progresses. Each page is alive with movement, joy, and vibrance. In a market saturated with picture book biographies about Serena, the unique artwork is what makes this one notable. VERDICT A fine addition to the growing Williams biography collection.--Abby Bussen, Muskego Public Library, WI

Copyright 2019 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Gray diverges from other picture book biographies of Venus and Serena Williams by focusing more fully on the youngest sister and by introducing the three other Williams sisters: Lyndrea, Isha, and Yetunde. The story opens with Serena accepting her trophy at the 1999 U.S. Open final at Arthur Ashe Stadium. "Thirteen years earlier," the Williams children are seen pushing a shopping cart filled with tennis balls to practice at the public courts. And outside the family sport, the "girls dreamed of what they could become: Tunde, a nurse... Isha, a lawyer... Lyn, a singer." When Venus's career takes off, Serena receives assurance from her sister Tunde ("You'll have your day. And it's gonna be even bigger"). Ahanonu's cut-paper-like compositions place exaggerated emphasis on the sisters' bright clothes, creating a pop-art aesthetic. The conclusion brings the book full circle, as Serena again appears with her trophy, thanking "all my sisters for all the support." Ages 8-11. (May)

Copyright 2019 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes


Karlin Gray
Karlin Gray is the author of several books for children, including Serena: The Littlest Sister, a picture book biography of Serena Williams. She holds a BA in creative writing from Florida State University. Karlin lives with her family in Westport, Connecticut.
Aparna Varma is an illustrator, designer and owner of the stationery company Green Bean Studio. The illustrator of Anne and Her Tower of Giraffes and several other children's books, she works in animation production at Nelvana Studios. She and her husband live in Toronto, Ontario, where they share a home studio.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Page Street Kids
Publication date
May 20, 2019
BISAC categories
JNF007050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Cultural Heritage
JNF018010 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - African-American
JNF019070 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Family | Siblings
JNF007100 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Sports & Recreation
JNF054120 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Sports & Recreation | Racket Sports
Library of Congress categories
United States
Tennis players
Williams, Serena
African American women tennis players

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