Book Review: Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country

Last week, my seven year old son came home and said that he had been challenged by his school principal to a game of chess. I knew that the principal uses chess as a way to connect one-on-one with students (so my first thought was: what did my son do now?). But it turned out to beĀ  a friendly challenge, and now my son wanted to learn how to play chess so he could take on the big man. I had taught my older sons when they were about the same age, so I grabbed a chess board from my classroom and my boy and I started to play.

I also ordered this book, Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country by Igor Suhkin . I have long had a hard time finding a fun book that teaches kids about chess in a storyline. I remember complaining about this once to a writer friend of mine, who then went on to create a short story with chess as the narrative device that he got published in Cricket Magazine. Of course, I can’t find the story now. I even used chess as a device in a novella I started and abandoned, and may yet return to one of these days.

I took a chance on Gary’s Adventures because of mostly positive reviews, and while it is by no means perfect, the book is a nice combination of a storyline of Gary learning chess through a storyline, while the reader/player encounters multiples chess-based challenges that teaches you about the basic moves of all of the chess pieces and the history of the game itself. This book does a lot of things. The story is sort of weak, but it holds together long enough to engage my son, who spent a few days walking around with the book in his hands. The illustrations are colorful and nicely done in a sort-of anime style, and I do love the two-page challenge areas that scaffolds the movement of pieces on the board. (I also see that Suhkin has a series of books called Chess Camp that I might need to check out, too.)

I also downloaded a chess app from the Mac Store (Dinosaur Chess), but we haven’t even opened it up yet. Instead, we’re just playing the game, and he is a quick learner. With only a little help from me, he won his first game the other night. And he has already played his principal and has been asked by his classroom teacher to bring in the board and teach another student in the classroom (who wants to be able to play the principal, too).

I’d recommend Gary’s Adventures in Chess Country as a nice primer on the game, and then get playing.

Peace (on the board),


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