cover image Playing to Win: The Story of Althea Gibson

Playing to Win: The Story of Althea Gibson

Karen Deans, , illus. by Elbrite Brown. . Holiday, $16.95 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-8234-1926-5

In her first children's book, Dean takes a reportorial approach to the Althea Gibson story and strives to give readers a sense of how the tennis star's extraordinary accomplishments fit within the context of segregated America and the white world of professional tennis. Unfortunately, her ambitious, sweeping approach drains this biography of much of its humanity and particularity. The prose, too, can distance readers: “She became a curiosity to many spectators and officials,” reads a typical passage. “Some objected to her participation and doubted that she was any good.” Many of Brown's (My Family Plays Music ) highly stylized pictures, which combine cut paper with other media, have the verve of an urban street mural and give the book visual oomph. But only one spread, which employs a multiple-exposure effect, imparts a sense of Gibson's athletic power. Elsewhere, static, mask-like portraits keep Gibson a remote figure, never suggesting the drive or exuberance for which Deans celebrates her. Ages 4-8. (Aug.)