Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, a review of a children’s book

A book that describes not just the rules of chess but also abstract concepts and basic strategy, while at the same time introducing a plot with about 10 named personalities in 48 pages, is asking a lot of a pre-adolescent reader.  In my opinion, it’s too much.

Jonathan Ferry’s Across the Battlefield, beautifully illustrated by Caroline Zina, is such a book. He takes an interesting game, gives pawns and pieces individual names and personalities, and creates a story about the development of Prunella the Pawn. That would be enough, but the book uses the story as a vehicle to describe the rules and strategy of chess. For many readers, especially early readers, the effort to remember characters and their traits will take precedence over the chess vocabulary and chess strategy the book describes.

A child could well be captivated by the pictures on each page. If read to second graders who had not been exposed to the game, the book could generate interest in learning to play. However, children are likely to be overwhelmed by the firehose of information about the rules, vocabulary, and strategy of the game.

In short, the excess ambition of Across the Battlefield works against its effectiveness in introducing chess concepts to its target audience of 6- to 10-year olds.

Across the Battlefield: A Pawn’s Journey, written by Jonathan Ferry and illustrated by Caroline Zina, is published by Chess Tales, LLC, of St. Louis, MO.