cover image Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson

Nothing but Trouble: The Story of Althea Gibson

Sue Stauffacher, , illus. by Greg Couch. . Knopf, $16.99 (40pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83408-0

Fifty years ago, in 1957, Althea Gibson became the first African-American to win at Wimbledon and Forest Hills (a feat she repeated in 1958). In rhythmic, conversational prose and vibrantly impressionistic pictures (rendered with a combination of digital imaging and acrylics), Stauffacher (Bessie Smith and the Night Riders ) and Couch (Wild Child ) brilliantly capture Gibson's trajectory from feisty, undisciplined tomboy to poised champion. Stauffacher appreciates that flawed heroes are the most interesting (they also make for eye-catching titles): “It took time, a good long time, but slowly Althea learned that wanting to slug her opponent as soon as she started losing her match made her a worse tennis player than if she kept her cool.... Althea realized she could dress up in white and act like a lady, and still beat the liver and lights out of the ball.” Stauffacher also skillfully handles the many supporting players in Gibson's life; her discussion of Buddy Walker, who first put a tennis racket in Gibson's hand, deepens the narrative and beautifully conveys how the giftedness of one individual can inspire generosity in others. Couch is a terrific match for the author, partnering her plainspoken text with vivid visual lyricism. In one of the most interesting elements in his consistently stunning compositions, a delicate but dynamic rainbow aura swirls around Althea wherever she goes; it's a sharp evocation of her spirited and appealingly prickly personality. Boys and girls of all levels of athleticism will find much inspiration in these pages. Ages 5-8. (Aug.)