The best chess books

6 authors have picked their favorite books about chess and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The Immortality of Influence: We Can Build the Best Minds of the Next Generation

The Immortality of Influence: We Can Build the Best Minds of the Next Generation

By Salome Thomas-El, Cecil Murphey,

Why this book?

Written by Salome Thomas-El, a parent and a nationally acclaimed educator, The Immortality of Influence nails a parent’s job description: We’re here to help kids recognize and realize their full potential. Simply put, that’s our legacy to our kids, grandkids, and any young person we take under our wing. I loved how the personal stories throughout this book demonstrated, again and again, the positive and lasting impact a consistently caring and responsible adult can have on a child’s life. Having had the honor of visiting Principal El’s school, I can attest to the fact that he walks the walk…

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Book cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll,

Why this book?

You may have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a child, but it may be worth another read as an adult. Did you know that Lewis Carroll was also a mathematician, logician, professor, philosopher, and poet? As an adult, I have become enchanted by the cascading levels of deeper, and at times esoteric, meaning Carroll encoded into this tale and its sequel. It seems that Taylor, too, was inspired by Alice. Some of the many references to Wonderland in her work include: lyrics about falling down the rabbit hole, a song titled "Wonderland," and Alice imagery in music…

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Book cover of Focused

Focused

By Alyson Gerber,

Why 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. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books for chess lovers

Book cover of Check Mates

Check Mates

By Stewart Foster,

Why 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…
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The best middle grade books for chess lovers

Book cover of Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

Beginners: The Joy and Transformative Power of Lifelong Learning

By Tom Vanderbilt,

Why this book?

A big part of lifelong learning involves experimenting, trying new things, and picking up new skills. I must confess this can be challenging for me; I’m one of those people who sometimes gets frustrated or embarrassed when I try something new and find it doesn’t come easily to me. Maybe you’re the same way--if so, all the more reason to take inspiration from Vanderbilt’s book, which chronicles his efforts to learn how to play chess, surf, sing, juggle, and more. Woven in with those entertaining experiences are larger lessons about how we learn, and why it’s so beneficial to keep…

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Book cover of Jackie Wins Them All

Jackie Wins Them All

By Fabian E. Ferguson, Alisa Aryutova (illustrator),

Why this book?

Talented Jackie seems to be good at everything from tennis to chess. She expects to win the race and is shocked when another girl passes her. Jackie isn’t used to losing and the hurt it causes. After acknowledging her disappointment, Jackie reaches out and congratulates her competitor.

This upbeat story features athletes of color who exemplify good sportsmanship and remind readers that “things won’t always work out – you can’t win them all. Work hard, give your best, and do all you can do.” It shows children how to graciously accept defeat.

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Book cover of A Boy Named Queen

A Boy Named Queen

By Sara Cassidy,

Why this book?

I wish these characters lived on my street. When Queen says to Evelyn that his chosen name is like a sorting hat, helping him decide whom to like on the basis of how they respond to it, I pretty much jumped up and down with admiration. He also tells Evelyn about his force field—it lets all the dumb things bounce off, but directs the nice things right into his heart—and I wish that all of us had such a gift. This story breaks my heart and then puts it back together. I’ve read it about a million times. 

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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

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

By Tanitoluwa Adewumi, Kayode Adewumi, Oluwatoyin Adewumi

Why 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…

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Book cover of Forbidden City (City Spies 3)

Forbidden City (City Spies 3)

By James Ponti,

Why 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…

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Book cover of The True Game

The True Game

By Sheri S. Tepper,

Why this book?

Within the lands of the True Game, humans possess specific 'talents', such as shape-shifting or telekinesis. Much like a planet-sized game of chess each player is utilised in great 'games' of war that ravage the planet. Enter Peter, a young necromancer, who must uncover the truth behind the disappearance of prominent gamesmen from the board.

Wildly clever and surprisingly touching, it's a novel I've read and re-read many times over the past 35 years.

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Or, view all 19 books about chess

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