The best middle grade books for chess lovers

Why am I passionate about this?

I love games; board games, card games, head games*; any kind of situation in which employing strategy is the only way forward. And yet, I’m not a big game player—aside from word games. I’m also endlessly fascinated by the mechanisms of power and how societies arrange themselves. The marriage between writing and understanding politics (in the traditional, not the partisan sense) is my true north. Writing a book in which a chess-like game provides the foundation felt inevitable for me, for what game better explores the dynamics of power and strategy? *I don’t play head games, but I do find manipulation fascinating fodder for writing.

I wrote...

Book cover of The Verdigris Pawn

What is my book about?

The heir to the Land should be strong. Fierce. Ruthless. Yet Beau is the exact opposite. With little control over his future, Beau is kept locked away, spending his days studying his family’s glorious history, and learning to master an outlawed chess-like game. Until the day he meets a girl who shows him the secrets his father has kept hidden. 

For the first time, Beau questions everything he’s been told. After teaming up with a fiery runaway boy, they set off in search of a rebel who might hold the key to setting things right. But it just might be Beau who wields the power he seeks... if he can go from pawn to player before the Land tears itself apart.
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alysa Wishingrad Why did I love this book?

Bear with me for a moment. Yes, there are grave and deep questions about Lewis Carroll, none of which I’d ever minimize, but when talking about great MG books featuring chess, Alice is the OG. Alice’s second adventure mirrors a game of chess in the action and character arcs. At the beginning of this tale, Alice is powerless, a true pawn. In order to reach her goal, she has no choice but to follow the rules of the game; all of which are fixed and unmovable. Yet, through the story, she becomes more confident and able, maturing and eventually evolves into a Queen. As an adult, I love the symbolism, but as a kid, this was the book that first introduced me to the wonders of chess and seeing life as a game that one must both take seriously and enjoy.

By Lewis Carroll,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel by English author Lewis Carroll (the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson). It tells of a young girl named Alice, who falls through a rabbit hole into a subterranean fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children.

One of the best-known and most popular works of English-language fiction, its narrative, structure, characters and imagery have been enormously…

Book cover of My Name Is Tani... and I Believe in Miracles: The Amazing True Story of One Boy's Journey from Refugee to Chess Champion

Alysa Wishingrad Why did I love this book?

My Name is Tani... is the inspiring story of an 8-year-old Nigerian immigrant who, after playing chess for only one year, went on the win the NYS Chess Championship. But it’s also a story about family, faith, resilience, and the very real power of kindness. The Adewumi family lived prosperously in Nigeria, until they were targeted by the terrorist organization Boko Harem. After fleeing to America their lives were categorically changed, and they wound up living in a homeless shelter. Yet they were never going to be defeated. Tani’s journey of learning, and quickly mastering, chess is one part of this story, yet the very real truth that “Talent is universal, opportunity is not,” provides the beating heart, highlighting as it does the vast inequities in our society. 

By Tanitoluwa Adewumi, Kayode Adewumi, Oluwatoyin Adewumi

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Name Is Tani... and I Believe in Miracles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

A true story of sacrificing everything for family, living with nothing but hope, then sharing generously all they received to discover the greatest riches of all.

Tani Adewumi didn't know what Boko Haram was or why they had threatened his family. All he knew was that when his parents told the family was going to America, Tani thought it was the start of a great adventure rather than an escape. In truth, his family's journey to the United States was nothing short of miraculous-and the miracles were just beginning.

Tani's father, Kayode, became a dishwasher and Uber driver while Tani's…

Book cover of Focused

Alysa Wishingrad Why did I love this book?

Focused is a beautiful exploration of one girl’s experience coming to terms with an ADHD diagnosis. The writing is rich and filled with emotion, and I very much felt like I was living inside Clea’s head, which gave me incredible insights into her strengths and struggles. That she’s a gifted chess player perfectly illustrates for young readers that neurodiversity isn’t about being broken in any way, it’s not a reflection of intelligence or ability, but simply it’s another way of being in the world, one that requires finding the right tools. 

By Alyson Gerber,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Focused as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 8, 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?

3 starred reviews!
"A story full of charm, compassion, and empathy." -- TODAY
Following Braced, which had three starred reviews, comes a story of a girl caught between her love of chess and her ADHD.
Clea can't control her thoughts. She knows she has to do her homework . . . but she gets distracted. She knows she can't just say whatever thought comes into her head . . . but sometimes she can't help herself. She know she needs to focus . . . but how can she do that when the people around her are always chewing gum…

Book cover of Check Mates

Alysa Wishingrad Why did I love this book?

I love intergenerational stories, and Check Mates fulfills that love with the added glory of including a chess subplot. 11-year-old Felix is constantly getting into trouble as his ADHA makes it very hard for him to focus and attend in-class. His Grandfather, who he’s never been particularly close to, is also suffering greatly following the death of his wife. The beauty and power in this story comes when the two are thrust together and the grandfather begins to teach Felix to play chess, while also sharing stories of his life during wartime. The result is a moving story filled with connection, discovering your strengths, and a fantastic immersion into the game of chess.

By Stewart Foster,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Check Mates as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, and 11.

What is this book about?


'Funny and heartfelt with a cunning twist. Stewart Foster is a grandmaster' - ROSS WELFORD

'An inspirational underdog story and a chilling mystery! A winning combination' - DAVID SOLOMONS

Some people think that I'm a problem child, that I'm lazy and never pay attention in lessons. But the thing is, I'm not a problem child at all. I'm just a child with a problem. Felix is struggling at school. His ADHD makes it hard for him to concentrate and his grades are slipping. Everyone keeps telling him to try harder, but no one…

Book cover of Forbidden City

Alysa Wishingrad Why did I love this book?

Let me begin by saying that if you haven’t yet read the first two books in the City Spies series, please get on it. Packed with adventure, fantastic characters, and brilliant plots twists, the entire series is a complete treat. As with the two previous installments, the book follows a diverse group of international kids who’ve been brought together to keep the world safe from the nefarious Umbra, a secret organization bent on world domination. The plot of this adventure revolves around team member, Paris, when he’s sent undercover to an international chess tournament to keep tabs on the son of a North Korean nuclear physicist. Like a well-played game of chess, the story relies on clever tactics, keen insights into your opponent, and good old-fashioned strategy.

By James Ponti,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Forbidden City as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 9, 10, 11, and 12.

What is this book about?

In this third “thrilling” (Kirkus Reviews) installment in the New York Times bestselling series from Edgar Award winner James Ponti, the young group of spies help a fellow agent in another international adventure perfect for fans of Spy School and Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls.

After taking down a mole within their organization, the City Spies are ready for their next mission—once again using their unique skills and ability to infiltrate places adults can’t. The sinister Umbra has their sights set on recruiting a North Korean nuclear physicist by any means necessary, and the City Spies plan to keep…

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Book cover of The Hummingbird & The Narwhal

Annie Higbee

New book alert!

What is my book about?

This is the story of two creatures who look alike, but come from completely different worlds.Their unlikely meeting on the horizon begins a journey of kindness, friendship, purpose, and magic!

The Hummingbird & The Narwhal

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Interested in chess, undercover operations, and ADHD?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about chess, undercover operations, and ADHD.

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