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How A Book About Chess Can Capture A Child’s Imagination
Prunella, a humble pawn, leads the way for her team. Image: Caroline Zina / Chess Tales LLC.

How A Book About Chess Can Capture A Child’s Imagination

raync910
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What’s a great way to introduce chess to a child? Depending on the age, an intriguing story that personifies pieces as they battle for their kings may help to complement other instruction.

Dramatic Twists And Turns

Across the Battlefield, A Pawn’s Journey by Chess.com member Jon Ferry (@Kuyper1) is a juvenile fiction that introduces chess as a game with dramatic twists and turns as it brings chess pieces to life. A central theme of the narrative is the magical powers of a pawn. Are they important only if it survives and is promoted to a queen? How correct is the famous Francois-Andre Philidor who said: "Play the pawns well; they are the soul of chess"? 

Play the pawns well; they are the soul of chess.
—Francois-Andre Philidor

Spoiler alert: The surprise ending is that a pawn is promoted to a knight instead. What a novel way to teach a young player that pawn promotions, rather than routinely selecting a high-value queen, should be guided by action on the chessboard.

The protagonist is Prunella, a frightened and humble pawn who sets off to do battle for her king. Although she thinks that her only importance is to survive the long journey to the back rank and become a queen, her unexpected value is to contribute to a crushing checkmate as a minor piece.

Pawn advancing with knight
Prunella advances into battle with a knight as her companion. Image: Caroline Zina / Chess Tales LLC.

Entertaining And Instructional

The book does more than spin a tale with chess pieces. It also teaches fundamental concepts that all pawns learn in pawn school: “They can’t go backward.” Pawn chains are identified as pawns move near the center of the board. Learning chess strategy from a pawn as Prunella tries to make it across the board to become a queen is quite an innovative approach.

As the narrative of the book unfolds, it also teaches tactics such as discovered attack, removing the defender, fork, and deflection that beginning players need to learn. Board diagrams created with Chess.com analysis tools explain the tactics, and young players who play on Chess.com or ChessKid.com would understand the diagrams and perhaps this sentiment by GM Paul Keres: "The older I grow, I more I value pawns."

The older I grow, the more I value pawns.
—Paul Keres

The book’s format is entertaining and instructional. As the narrative continues when the page is turned, the facing page guides the young reader in understanding the complexities of chess. By identifying squares of the chessboard in algebraic notation when key moves are made, the book helps interest young readers in learning chess notation.

To make the narrative as amusing as it is educational, names of pieces are cleverly selected such as “Eagle Eye,” a bishop that Ferry describes as having the “ability to spot an unsuspecting opponent all the way across the board and snatch her in an instant.” The white queen is Idalia, a girl’s name of Italian origin that means “behold the sun.” Other pieces are also named creatively.

Rook staring down at opponent's pawns
Prunella and another pawn fear the enemy rook. Image: Caroline Zina / Chess Tales LLC.

Life Values

As Ferry weaves his tale, he explores what we choose to value in life. The book teaches the importance of teamwork and the value of every piece, even a lowly pawn that is often sacrificed to achieve an advantage. Following Prunella across the chessboard helps young readers realize that life’s goal is more about finding internal peace and happiness than achieving fame.

As Prunella marches forward under orders from her king, she also demonstrates the importance of good sportsmanship. When she captures an opposing piece, she says: “Good game. You served your team well.”

However, Prunella is frustrated at being a weak pawn. “I dream of having the mobility of a queen,” she says early in the book.

Pawn dreaming of becoming a queen
Prunella dreams of becoming a queen. Image: Caroline Zina / Chess Tales LLC.

Although Prunella has the power to capture the enemy queen later, she thinks that she is doomed and has failed when she is defenseless just one row from a promotion square. Then with the board cleared of queens, she advances to the back rank with increased power as the great Jose Raul Capablanca observed: "A passed pawn increases in strength as the number of pieces on the board diminishes." Then she determines the game’s outcome as a knight rather than as a queen. 

A passed pawn increases in strength as the number of pieces on the board diminishes.
—Jose Raul Capablanca

Even experienced players and mature readers may be surprised when checkmate is delivered by two knights and a bishop. (Fair warning: Practice common checkmate patterns more.)

Illustrations And Story

Vivid illustrations contribute to the story’s appeal to young players. They are mesmerizing and help tell a convincing story about being timid but brave when facing what appears to be overwhelming obstacles. The book is artistically illustrated by Caroline Zina, and the author’s daughter Adelina also contributes to the artwork with a chess dragon that she designed.

Pawn captures rook
Prunella stands victorious over the enemy rook she has captured. Image: Caroline Zina / Chess Tales LLC.

When Ferry and his three daughters play chess, they like to guess what the pieces would be thinking (if they could) and how those thoughts relate to everyday experiences. He presented an early version of the book to a fourth-grade class and used their suggestions to improve his story. “Creating and designing characters for my new children's book has been quite the thrilling ride!” Ferry says.

Published by Chess Tales LLC, the book is available in hardbound, paperback, and ebook formats. A member of the Saint Louis Chess Club, the author can be reached by email.

I wish the book was available when my youngest grandchild began to show an interest in chess. One Saturday morning when she was five, I found her staring at game diagrams in the 10th edition of Modern Chess Openings that she had opened out of curiosity. It had been on my bookshelf untouched for years. Imagine how much more Ferry’s book would have intrigued her about chess, although I don't think we would agree with GM Reuben Fine (an editor of the 10th edition) who said: "I'd rather have a pawn than a finger."

I'd rather have a pawn than a finger.
—Reuben Fine

The book can benefit kids from seven to 12 who are beginning to learn the game and as they also learn to read. It’s a heartwarming story that young readers will want to read again and again, and families and friends will enjoy watching their reactions every time too.

raync910
Ray Linville

Ray Linville’s high point as a chess player occurred when he swiped the queen of GM Hikaru Nakamura in a 60-second bullet game in 2021.  This game was reported in a “My Best Move” column of the Chess Life magazine, published by the U.S. Chess Federation.

At Chess.com, he has been an editor (part-time) since 2019 and has edited news articles and tournament reports—including those of the Candidates and World Championship Tournaments and other major events—by titled players and noted chess writers as well as Game of the Day annotations by leading grandmasters. He has also been a contributing writer of chess terms, e-books, and general interest articles for ChessKid.com.

He enjoys “top blogger” status at Chess.com. His blog has won the award for Best Chess Blog from the Chess Journalists of America for several years. In addition, he has also been the recipient of first-place CJA awards for feature article, humorous contribution, online review, and educational lesson as well as honorable mention in the categories of personal narrative and historical article.

This blog has won the award for Best Chess Blog from the Chess Journalists of America. In addition, I have also been the recipient of first-place awards for online review, feature article, humorous contribution, and educational lesson as well as honorable mention in the categories of personal narrative and historical article. Articles that won these awards are:

In addition, my article "How Knight Promotions Win Chess Games" was selected by Chess.com as "Blog of the Month."

Be sure to check out these articles as well as others that I have posted. I hope you enjoy reading what I have written and will follow this blog to see my future posts.