INTERVIEWS with Award-Winning Author and Dreamworks Animator/Illustrator of "THE QUEEN OF CHESS"

INTERVIEWS with Award-Winning Author and Dreamworks Animator/Illustrator of "THE QUEEN OF CHESS"

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Who was the first female named the youngest Grandmaster in history? You guessed it…Judit Polgar, having surpassed Bobby Fischer! That was in 1991, at a time when women were sparse in the professional chess world and commonly considered lacking chess prowess. Quite the feat, so it’s not surprising that she is still considered the highest-rated female player in chess history. It is one of many reasons she was chosen as the subject by award-winning author, Laurie Wallmark, in her new release, The Queen of Chess, illustrated by Dreamworks animator Stevie Lewis. You’re about to get a peek inside this stunning book and learn more about its creators who, in their own right, are as fascinating as Judit herself.

If you’re looking to inform and encourage the young chess players in your life, whether girl or boy, this beautifully written and illustrated book is the ticket. There is no doubt that kids having this book on a shelf to read over and over again will feed their passion for the game and be inspired by Judit’s story. And don’t underestimate the scope of picture books; whether fiction or non, they are definitely not just for kids!

I don’t know about you, but I rarely have time to read full-length biographies about the many people I’m interested in so appreciate that, as an adult, in reading The Queen of Chess I learned the most outstanding, encompassing information on this fascinating woman’s personal and chess life in a matter of minutes. Due to lower word count every word matters, so you get it all in the quickest, most digestible, pleasurable way as only a custom, focused picture book can accomplish. I found I absorbed the substantial content better too! being a place where players flock for chess fun, not book publishing, you may not be familiar with what it takes to create a book like this. A lot of people are involved, but the key players are its author and illustrator. The marriage of words and pictures is much more complex than you might think, and when it’s done well, it can move readers, both young and old, in numerous ways from funny to serious, happy or sad…even joyous! It thrills me to introduce you to the book itself and offer a “behind the curtain” look through Q&As with both the author and illustrator of The Queen of Chess, so let’s get to it!...

RookedOnChess:  Laurie, you have authored many award-winning biographies on smart, strong, successful women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). What criteria do you use for picking a subject to write about?

Laurie:  There are many things I think about when choosing my next biography subject. The first, of course, is whether the person’s life story will be of interest to children. Will kids find her achievements inspiring? Will they see themselves (mirrors) and/or others (windows) in how she overcame challenges in her life? After that, it’s important that I find the subject’s life and achievements interesting. It takes a long time to research, write, and revise a book. For biographies, that means I’d better like entering that person’s world. Speaking of research, I also need to have access to enough primary and secondary sources in order to create an accurate picture of the person’s life and accomplishments.

RoC:  Laurie, I think most people assume that nonfiction books for children don’t require work over months and sometimes years because their word count is limited, but it does, so as the author it makes sense you would want to really enjoy your subject and her world. And there’s no question that all your biographies are interesting, for children and adults. I love them and learn so much!

RookedOnChess:  To write The Queen of Chess, you spent countless hours of research on GM Polgar so know more about her than most people. What impresses you most about her? Her accomplishments?

Laurie:  I greatly admire Judit’s attitude. When someone is as accomplished as she is, it’s easy for her to not care about others. That’s definitely not the case with Judit. After retiring from competitive play, Judit wanted to show that chess connects us. The mission of her nonprofit Judit Polgár Chess Foundation is to support social development, education, and lifelong learning through chess. The Judit Polgár Chess Festival connects chess players from around the world.

RoC:  When I first got into chess, being the platform, Judit Polgar was one of the first GMs I became aware of, and it’s always heartening when someone so successful uses that status to help others. I especially love that the objective of her foundation is to bring chess into schools, worldwide, as an educational tool 🧡

Being a recreational chess player yourself, you have a love for the game. When did you start playing?

Laurie:  I started playing recreational chess in first or second grade. I especially loved going with my grandfather to watch him play chess in Central Park (NYC). There we’d spend hours with people from all walks of life whose only connection with each other was their love of the game. Occasionally I’d even get to play a game on the concrete chess tables. Yes, I usually lost, but I didn’t care. I was part of my grandfather’s chess world.

RoC:  Oh, how WONderful to play and watch chess players in Central Park! And sharing something like that with your grandfather makes it so very special 😍 It brings to mind players like Bobby Fischer and Josh Waitzkin playing in Washington Square Park. I can’t help but wonder what “Superstar” games you witnessed!

RookedOnChess:  Do you feel playing chess is of value to younger people? If so, how?

aurie:  There are so many advantages to learning chess as a  child. Playing the game helps to improve focus, memory, and problem solving. These skills translate into better learning across many fields — from math to music, science to literature. Since playing chess is fun, acquiring these skills doesn’t feel like work.

RoC:  What you say is so true. There are many benefits to playing chess, certainly for children. Some schools have actually incorporated chess into their curriculum for this very reason  👏 One thing's for sure, is fully on board with!

RookedOnChess:  You dedicated this book to your daughters, Kim and Lisa. Do they play chess also?

Laurie:  Like me, they play recreational chess. We’re a big math family, and solving chess puzzles is like solving math ones.

RoC:  I’m not a big “math” person, and certainly not a good chess player, but I LOVE doing the chess puzzles here on 👌. I hope you and your family check them out (if you haven’t already!)

RookedOnChess:  And what about this book made them the objects of your dedication?

Laurie:  I’ve dedicated all of my #WomenInSTEM biographies to my daughters, who as software engineers are both women in STEM. When they were young, there were very few books about women scientists and mathematicians. I don’t want this to be true for today’s generation of girls and boys.

RoC:  Like mother, like daughters 🧡 One thing’s for sure, your library of published books thus far is certainly helping to fill the void, and your readers are looking forward to the many future releases. 


RookedOnChess:  As its author, your intent was to inspire young children to take up chess or continue playing. What do you most hope your readers, both young and old, will come away with after reading The Queen of Chess?

Laurie:  I obviously hope that readers will enjoy learning about Judit’s amazing life. If reading my book also increases their love of the game, all the better. More than that, though, I want them to understand the hard work and dedication involved in becoming a superstar in any field.

RoC:  Laurie, in my opinion, your readers will be impressed on all these levels. I know I am! You share your passion for children to learn valuable things about remarkable women, and about being an author, through your books themselves, but also through school visits. Lucky kids!


Stevie, typically in the publishing world, the story is written and then the illustrator is chosen. Like me, you are not a skilled chess player, but admire the game. What about The Queen of Chess appealed to you as an illustrator?

Stevie:  My husband is a dedicated chess player, and when I received the manuscript for The Queen of Chess, I knew I wanted to be a part of the project.  I had been following along on his chess journey for a while now.  We’d do puzzles on and play games together. 

RoC:  I’m loving that you’re both on! How special that you’ve been taking this journey together 🧡

RookedOnChess:  You have illustrated a wide array of amazing books (including Baby Shark!)! Along with illustrating picture books, you also work in Visual Development at Dreamworks (incl. on “Boss Baby”). Can you tell us a bit about what your job entails at Dreamworks?

Stevie:  I had been an artist on “Trolls 3” for the last two years.  I recently wrapped on the project and am focusing on books for now.  I’ve been with DreamWorks off/on since 2010.  I had an internship there when I was still in college on the film, “Madagascar 3.”   Because I work in the Art Department, I design early concepts, environments, and lighting scenarios for various scenes, then I pass on my work to departments down the line to be made into 3D models, animated, etc. It’s a giant team effort, so the final product you see on screen is a collaboration between hundreds of different people. 

RoC:  I’ve been a huge fan of animation since I was a kid and am fascinated by every aspect. I’m in awe, and when I see the countless names in the credits, I’m also very appreciative. Next time I watch them, I’ll be sure to look for yours! 🤩 😉🔎How gratifying it must be to work on such successful films and actually build their foundations!

RookedOnChess:  Do you have a favorite project?

Stevie:  I learned a lot on “Trolls 3,” but I also enjoyed working on “Boss Baby.” 

RoC:  OK, my granddaughter is a big fan of both, and her eyes bugged out when I told her I’ve interviewed an artist who had a part in making “Boss Baby” 🤩😍

RookedOnChess:  Animation vs. illustration; which similarities and/or differences between the two do you find more or less appealing, and why?


  I enjoy both mediums because I learn in different ways through each.  Illustration pushes me to tell stories through a single image, while animation is highly collaborative and ever-changing.  The end result is always different than what was originally intended.  In animation, I also learn new styles when I have to adapt my art to the style of the film, and I learn a tremendous amount from my art director and production designer, as well as other artists on the team.  There is a constant source of creative feedback and you’re always striving to evolve with each project.

With illustration, it’s a little different.  It’s a bit more solitary, which is completely fine.  However after a long stint of working on books, I tend to feel stagnant in terms of my skill level in art/design and technique.  I think doing a bit of both is healthy, one keeping you growing in your style/skill, and the other focusing on your storytelling.

RoC:  Over the years I’ve noticed quite a few animators delving into illustrating for children’s books. Some prefer one over the other. I truly admire that, as remarkably talented and skilled as you are, your approach shows your humble desire to improve even more. (You’re so good, how is that even POSSible?! lol) And the fact that you do this on the road in between rock climbing, is amazing to me. Your traveling work spaces are great! Your van looks so cozy, warm and comfortable. Just love it 🧡

RookedOnChess:  Not everyone is familiar with what it takes to illustrate a book. Can you give us a very basic rundown of your process, e.g., research, traditional vs. digital, etc.?

Stevie:  When reading through the manuscript, I can already picture most of the book in my head.  After reading through the manuscript a few times, I spend a decent amount of time doing research.  I want to be as accurate as possible, especially when I’m working with non-fiction texts like The Queen of Chess.  Then, I’ll move on to sketching all the spreads out on one big page.  My first sketches are tiny and rough, but give me an overall idea of the book.   Then I’ll move into more detailed drawings which I end up sending to publishers for review.  After those drawings are approved, I’ll go to final.  I generally work in Procreate or Photoshop but occasionally work on paper during the early exploration stages.   

RoC:  Your thumbnails of the spreads are quite detailed (mine are more scribbled!), so I’m impressed!…


…and it’s remarkable how the finished illustrations in the book are very close to the original concepts (evident in the page spread shown below).

RookedOnChess:  Do you have a favorite illustration or spread in The Queen of Chess, and why?

Stevie:  My favorite spread in The Queen of Chess is the first pages of the story, with Judit peeking into the chess room.  It’s a good message for kids and adults who are afraid or nervous to try something that is new, but also intrigues them.  You never know until you try. 

RoC:  Agreed! And there’s something so compelling and appealing about any scene in which something is secretly seen or overheard as shown in the favorite spread you just mentioned (compare to thumbnail pages 6 & 7):

RookedOnChess:  In learning so much about GM Judit Polgar, what impresses you most?

Stevie:  When I read Judit’s story, I admired her passion and determination.  While I didn’t understand the nuances of chess, I watched hours of her games for research and cheered when she defeated her opponent with skill and grace.  I’m so honored I was able to illustrate her story!

RoC:  I love that your research led you to be involved enough to feel for Judit and her accomplishments (one reason to appreciate YouTube!). And I get the sneaking suspicion she would be flattered to know you illustrated her story 😊


So there you have it from two strong, smart, successful women. I sincerely appreciate the time they took to share their take on chess, chess for kids, and their work—work that, together, brought Judit’s story to life in a beautiful, unique way. I’m very honored to have the opportunity to share this long-awaited, amazing book and let you know it’s actually available NOW to be shipped as of its release date, July 25th! I know I want TWO copies—one for “adult” me, and one for the two little, future chess players in my life. What a wonderful addition to our at-home libraries as the inspiration it’s meant to be 😁😍📚📖

Don’t blunder this one, make that move and ”check” out The Queen of Chess!...



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Happy Reading and Chessing, everyone! Stay well!



Co-Founder and Super Admin. of the Chess.comTV Group







A plethora of INTERVIEWS


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INTERVIEW at (with great travel/rock climbing pics)

INTERVIEW at podcast


Judit Polgár Chess Foundation

BIO on



TED Talk on YouTube

World Chess Hall of Fame