The King's Gambit by John McNichol (illustrated by Sean Fitzpatrick)

The King’s Gambit by John McNichol (illustrated by Sean Fitzpatrick)

Around here, we always have at least one family read-aloud going. I read to the kids everyday before lunch and dh and 12yod read together when I’m with the boys at TKD. During various times of the year, we’ll start a family read-aloud in the evenings so dh can join in the fun. Our “school time” read-alouds are often keyed to our history time period or geographic location, but sometimes, we just do a read-aloud for fun.

We had begun The Story of the Trapp Family Singers as our first family read-aloud of 2013, just prior to starting our WW2 unit. Baroness VonTrapp’s descriptions of Catholic life in pre-WW2 Austria (and the Anschluss!) are wonderful scene-setting for our history classes. We were all greatly enjoying the story of Maria and the Von Trapps. But then fate intervened: I received a review copy of a book I figured was too good to keep to myself. I announced “we’re going to put Maria on hold and start reading this new book. It’s a great story.”

The skepticism was writ large on the face of my children. They’d seen this happen before and didn’t trust the “honest, it’s a great story”. Knowing I was outnumbered, I compromised: we would give it 10 pages and then take a vote.

After 30 minutes of reading, and 25 pages, I had to move on to our next subject. The kids wanted to keep going and really balked at doing anything else until they found out why Edward has FBI agents greeting him, why things keep exploding around Edward and generally, what the heck is going on in this story titled, The King’s Gambit. They were hooked (and, truth be told, so was I).

The King’s Gambit, by author and middle-school teacher, John McNichol, is a fabulous read-aloud, filled with action, humor and an amazingly unique plot with lots of twists and turns and chapter-ending cliff-hangers. From the eerie prologue to the exploding library to the street-scene brawls, this book kept us turning the pages and asking for more. The final chapter or two are a thrilling read of family love and sacrifice. I’d love to tell you more about the story, but you just need to read it yourself.

Suffice to say that a “king’s gambit” is a chess move: The King’s Gambit is one of the oldest documented openings. White opens by offering a pawn. White’s purpose of sacrificing his pawn is to open lines for his pieces and weaken black’s center, thus creating ideal circumstances for an attack. Indeed, in this opening white attacks very early in the game, unlike most other chess openings. Thus, chess plays a large role in this book … but you don’t have to understand chess or even like chess (I don’t!) to enjoy this exciting story.

We loved this story and can’t wait for McNichol’s next book. I highly recommend this for upper primary and middle-school readers as well as for family read-alouds – you’ll love it!

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