Inspiring Kids Through Chess
The strategy. The brilliant tactics. The stunning symmetry when the pieces stand in their starting positions. Yes, chess exemplifies magnificence. But these traits only scratch the surface. As a lifelong student of world history and culture, phenomena that cross-cultural, national, ideological, and generational boundaries always fascinate me. With all the attributes that make us different from one another, factors that act as a common thread woven throughout the beautiful human tapestry have long drawn my attention.
More than just a game
With origins dating back to nearly 150 years after the fall of the Roman Empire, chess has withstood the test of time. Certainly, there are older games: Backgammon, checkers, and go among them. But a casual glance on Reddit, for example, shows that the chess community registers anywhere from 75 times (backgammon) to 500 times (checkers) larger than these ancient competitors. Chess is universal. People with every kind of background and belief system play it across virtually every country, state, and province in the world.
I think the nature of the game marvelously reflects the intrinsic qualities of humanity. After all, the six different piece types – each with their own roles, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses – who must work together to achieve a common goal – exemplify the human experience. These pieces start to look like characters in a story, and we find them engaged in an epic battle between the light and dark armies, where every game tells a unique tale of bravery, sacrifice, loss, and victory. No wonder multitudes of people across time and space love chess!
Telling the Story
Is it a coincidence that the tales of some of the most famous characters in fiction culminate on the battlefield? Whether it is Luke Skywalker, Frodo Baggins, or any one of the Avengers, each of their stories leads to a war in which they play a key role. In chess, our characters have their own battlefield on which to fight. The black and white squares serve as their crucible.
With such a rich backdrop to work with, what better avenue exists for weaving fanciful tales that convey critical thinking strategies while providing examples of character-building for kids than stories about chess? This motivated me to write Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey.
In this, the first of the Chess Tales series, we imagine what a pawn in a chess game might experience. Our protagonist, Prunella pawn, believes along with most of her other pawn friends, that unless she can traverse the entire length of the battlefield, rising to the position of a queen, she lacks value. But the obstacles she must face to get there, including sharp-eyed bishops, menacing rooks, and a ferocious queen are daunting. Will she learn what it takes to cross the battlefield? And perhaps along the way, she may discover the full value that pawns contribute beyond simply promoting to a queen.
Teaching the Game
With each corresponding page of the story, I wanted to teach kids about the fundamentals of the game. So as Prunella and her teammates make their moves, readers can learn some of the keys to playing chess, such as taking the initiative, creating space, controlling the center, and keeping your pieces happy, along with a few tactics like forks and pins. The book includes chess board diagrams from Chess.com to instruct kids while they read through the story.
Creating the Book
From the beginning, I knew how I wanted the story to end—with a multi-faceted finale that even Prunella would never expect. I set the pieces up in their final positions on the board in my living room and played the game backward, which served as one of the trickiest aspects of writing the book. With the game laid out, the story followed, and then with each page, a lesson was added to correspond with that portion of the game. In this way, readers get a glimpse at opening, middle, and endgame chess concepts.
The real magic ensued with the illustrations. My illustrator, Caroline Zina, and I spent months designing how each character would look. Castles, hills, and towns were added to the background to create a sense of fantasy to help draw children into the story, and into the world of chess. After several stages of text layouts, rough sketches, and computer renderings, Caroline drew each page by hand with colored pencils and watercolors.
One example of how the process looked at each stage:
Bringing the story to life
My hope remains that this book and the future Chess Tales adventures will inspire kids to take up and love the game of chess since, in this author’s opinion, a world filled with chess equates to a better world.