Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams

Written by Lesa Cline-Ransome

Illustrated by James E. Ransome

Author Interview

Illustrator Interview

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Informational Resources:

Author Information:

Lesa Cline-Ransome website:

Lesa Cline-Ransome biography:

Lesa Cline-Ransome blog:

Illustrator Information:

James E. Ransome website:

James E. Ransome biography:


Learn about Jame E. Ransome’s process when working on illustrations (15:04):


Activities & Resources:



Learn the basic rules of tennis:

Learn about Tennis Hall of Fame player, Althea Gibson. Her success on and off the court inspired both Venus and Serena:

Watch the Trans World Sports Interview with Venus and Serena when they were 11 and 12 years old (6:39):

Read about Serena Williams’ 2003 Australian Open win aptly named The Serena’s Slam:

Serena Williams, the first woman to win 23 Grand Slam titles (2:06):

ESPN examines Venus and Serena’s on-court history leading up to the sisters 30th time to face each other on the court (2:54):

Table tennis trivia: Using a table, table tennis ball, table tennis paddle, if available, and a table tennis net, if available, kids will win points based on correctly answering questions asked by the opposing team.

Learn the history of the Grand Slam tournaments:

Tennis History – Origins, The Open Era and Grand Slam History


The illustrator, James E. Ransome, uses collage throughout the book. Watch the following video to find out more about the collaging technique. Use the collage technique to create your own illustration of someone you admire:

Venus and Serena were known for their fashion on and off the court. Create an outfit for Venus and Serena’s next match:

MakerSpace Activities:

It’s not just sports —  it’s physics! Using the library’s resources, learn how force and motion are used in the game of tennis. Put what you’ve learned about force and motion into practice. Using a racquet and tennis ball, model how the speed of the ball changes based on the amount of force from the racquet.

Using cups, popsicle sticks, and other craft items build a tower that can hold a tennis ball at the top. The kid or group of kids with the tallest and strongest tower wins.

Mr. Williams used everything around him to help his daughters become the greatest tennis players of all time. Help the younger Venus and Serena by brainstorming, designing, and possibly creating a tennis ball launcher they can use at practice.

Using a green screen video app like DoInk, students can create an interactive biography about Venus and Serena.

Discussion Questions:

Do you follow the careers of specific professional athletes or other celebrities? What made you become a fan?

Looking at the cover, what do you notice about the art work? Share specific details and explain why it caught your eye.

Why do you think the author, Lisa Cline-Ransome, wanted to write a book about Venus and Serena?

Serena wanted to be just like her sister, Venus, and begged her father to go to the courts with them. Do you have an older sibling or friend that you look up to and want to emulate or be like? Why?

People in the neighborhood laughed at Richard Williams and his tennis ambitions. Why did Venus and Serena’s father want his daughters to play tennis?

The tennis stars trained six days a week. Each morning they cleaned the broken glass and trash off the court. What do you think motivated the girls to get up every morning to go to practice?

How did Venus and Serena’s sisters support these tennis players growing up?

Growing up the girls didn’t have time for sleepovers or trips to the mall. What would you be willing to give up to reach one of your goals or dreams? Explain your choice.

Venus and Serena’s father created some unconventional tennis drills for his daughters. How did throwing footballs, tossing racquets, and chasing flat balls help them become better players?

Why do you think ballet helped the sister’s tennis game?

What were some of the challenges Venus and Serena faced growing up? How did they push through the challenges?

What did Venus and Serena’s mother, Oracene, mean when she told the girls, “whatever you become, you become in your head first?”

Twelve-year-old Venus confidently stated that she would win Wimbledon. How did this confidence help her at such a young age?

How did the Williams family ensure that neither girl was overshadowed by the other?

Venus always comforted Serena. What did Venus do to make sure Serena knew that her sister was just as good a player as Venus?

The girls dressed in tennis outfits they designed. How did the way they dressed help the girls’ confidence?

Sometimes the girls faced racism in a predominantly white sport. How did the girls handle the racists remarks hurled at them by spectators?

What did their father do to help them handle the cruel and racist remarks from the crowd?

Serena said, “I hate losing more than I love winning” (pg. 22). What did she mean by this statement?

The girls were competitive, but they were sisters first. How did they handle playing each other once they joined the professional tour?

The first time the sisters played each other on tour was in 1998 at the Australian Open. Venus easily beat Serena. How did Serena handle the loss?

In 2002 at the French Open, Serena finally defeated Venus. How did Serena feel finally beating her sister? How did Venus react to the loss?

Book Talk Teasers:

Play the book trailer for Game Changers, found on the Texas Bluebonnet Award YouTube channel:

Watch Venus and Serena play against each other at the 2008 US Open. The commentators talk about their level of play and the strong bond as sisters (1:47):

Read Alikes:

Venus & Serena

Bailey, Diane. Venus and Serena Williams: tennis champions. Traces the lives and athletic careers of the two sisters who are both champion tennis players whose skills on the court, sense of style, and strong opinions have changed the sport. (NoveList Plus)

Bryant, Howard. Sisters and Champions. Tells the story of the highly successful tennis players Venus and Serena Williams, laying out their humble beginnings, hard work, mutual support, and their resulting extraordinary achievements in tennis. (NoveList Plus)

Buckley, James. Who are Venus and Serena Williams? Follows the pair from their early days of training up through the ranks and to the Summer Olympic Games, where they have each won four gold medals—more than any other tennis players. (NoveList Plus)

Peters, Gregory N. Venus and Serena: tennis stars. Describes the lives of tennis stars Serena and Venus Williams from birth to becoming champions. (NoveList Plus)

Rajczak Nelson, Kristen. Serena Williams: tennis star. Shares the life of the tennis superstar, including her commitment to the game and her dedication to her charity work. (NoveList Plus)

The Game of Tennis

Bidner, Phil. Martina & Chrissie: the greatest rivalry in the history of sports. A fascinating dual biography of tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert celebrates the power of equality, respect, and sportsmanship. (NoveList Plus)

King, Donna. Game, Set, Match. Twelve-year-old Cassie is a star tennis player, but she no longer feels the same way about the sport since she has to keep choosing between her friends and tennis. (NoveList Plus)

Kortemeier, Todd. Superstars of pro tennis. Looks at some of the biggest stars in professional tennis, including Serena Williams, Pete Sampras, and Rafael Nadal. (NoveList Plus)

Rusch, Elizabeth. Girls’ tennis: conquering the court. Describes tennis, the skills needed for it, and ways to compete. (NoveList Plus)

Strand, Jennifer. Billie Jean King. Describes the life of the tennis star, from her childhood and early competitive career to her role as activist for women’s rights. (NoveList Plus)

Women in Sports

Axon, Rachel. Title IX levels the playing field. Discusses the creation of and continuing work focused on Title IX, which requires that girls and women be included in all federally-funded programs, allowing them to participate and thrive in sports. (NoveList Plus)

Harper, Jo. Wilma Rudolph: Olympic runner. Tells of the early years of the first American female athlete to win three gold medals at a single Olympic Games shares her triumphs over childhood illnesses to become an outstanding basketball player. (NoveList Plus)

Pimentel, Annette Bay. Girl Running: Bobbi Gibb and the Boston Marathon. An illustrated telling of the story of Bobby Gibb and how her persistence led her to become the first woman to finish the Boston Marathon in 1966. (NoveList Plus)

Stauffacher, Sue. Nothing But Trouble. Buddy Walker sees the raw talent of this Harlem native and decides to take her under his wing to build her tennis skills–challenging her to become a great player who eventually earns the title of the first African-American to ever play at and win the celebrated Wimbledon Cup. (NoveList Plus)

Vernick, Audrey. The Kid from Diamond Street: the extraordinary story of baseball legend Edith Houghton. A historical picture book about Edith Houghton, a female baseball phenomenon who joined the professional women’s team the Bobbies at the age of 10. (NoveList Plus)


Cline-Ransome, Lesa.  Illustrated by James E. Ransome.  Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams. A Paula Wiseman Book, an imprint of Simon and Schuster Children’s Publishing, 2018.

Horn Book

Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams

by Lesa Cline-Ransome; illus. by James E. Ransome

Primary, Intermediate Wiseman/Simon 48 pp.

7/18 978-1-4814-7684-3 $17.99

e-book ed. 978-1-4814-7685-0 $10.99

Wife-and-husband team Cline-Ransome and Ransome celebrate tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams, focusing on their formative childhoods and the way their preparation and talent fundamentally changed the game. Cline-Ransome’s chronological account begins with the sisters’ pre-dawn practices in Compton, California, sweeping the public courts of garbage and broken glass before applying themselves with phenomenal dedication (“By the time Venus was four she could hit five hundred tennis balls at every practice”; “When gunshots rang out in the distance, [their father] Richard reminded them, ‘Never mind the noise. Just play’”). As they grow and improve, moving from their family’s private coaching to the professional tour, they become the dominant force in women’s tennis and find themselves playing against each other with increasing frequency. Ransome’s detailed collages reflect this shift. Early illustrations show the girls close together, dressed in like colors with similar hairstyles. As the story progresses, the sisters are positioned apart, wearing different colors, until as young women they find themselves on opposite sides of the net, their separation emphasized by the book’s low, wide trim size. The final spread, showing them on the same side of the net, holding hands, after Serena bested Venus in the 2002 French Open, communicates the sisters’ ultimate devotion to each other. Thorough back matter—including an afterword, source notes, a selected bibliography, and further reading—is appended. THOM BARTHELMESS       Reprinted from the July/August 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine with permission from The Horn Book, Inc.,


Game Changers: The Story of Venus and Serena Williams. (Starred) Cline-Ransome, Lesa (author). Illustrated by James E. Ransome.

July 2018. 48p. Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, $17.99 (9781481476843); Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman, e-book, $17.99 (9781481476850). Grades 1-4. 796.3420922. REVIEW. First published June 1, 2018 (Booklist).

The acclaimed Ransome husband-and-wife duo move from the historical (Before She Was Harriet, 2017) to the present-day with this story of African American sisters Venus and Serena Williams, who changed the game of tennis with their prowess and determination. The picture-book biography begins with their early years, when they would get up before dawn to clear garbage off the tennis courts near their home and practice the game six days a week under the tutelage of their father. Without formal training, the two devised methods to increase their natural talent, such as incorporating ballet for flexibility, running to increase their speed, and throwing footballs to help their serves become more powerful. Clear writing, an inviting layout, collage-style pictures, and quotes from the sisters and their parents make this nonfiction format accessible for emerging and more confident readers. Cut paper, pencil, and acrylic paints blend seamlessly to create beautifully bold, colorful illustrations in tribute to two amazing athletes. A detailed afterword lists their many accomplishments, including U.S. Open and Wimbledon victories as well as their Olympic gold medals. Source notes, a bibliography, and further reading enhance an informative book that will appeal to children and sports fans of all ages. — Maryann Owen

Used with the permission of Booklist

School Library Journal (June 1, 2018) 

Gr 3-5-This lovingly crafted picture book biography centers on the incredible bond between Venus and Serena Williams and one of their signature accomplishments: being the first two sisters in tennis history to rank numbers one and two in the world. Beginning with their early childhood, Cline-Ransome highlights the siblings’ hard work and dedication to each other and their goals. From pre-dawn practices as preschoolers in the Compton neighborhood of Los Angeles, to Serena’s first victory over Venus in the 2002 French Open nearly 20 years later, this story of their single-minded focus and unwavering family support will inspire readers to achieve greatness regardless of the odds. The collage artwork, done in cut paper, pencil, and acrylic paints, is expansive and filled with vibrant colors and emotions. Fans of tennis will be in for a treat as Cline-Ransome recounts the Williams’s matches with thrilling detail. This powerful narrative will most appeal to independent readers. Back matter includes an afterword that chronicles the duo’s accomplishments and challenges from 2002 to 2011. VERDICT An important selection for biography and sports collections.-Lynn Van Auken, Oak Bluffs School, Oak Bluffs, MA © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.   Reprinted with permission from School Library Journal ©2018