Published by Canter Press
Summary: When Saul Ramirez was hired as the art teacher at Henderson Middle School, he promised the principal he would also produce a championship chess team. Growing up in El Paso, the poorest zip code in America, Ramirez had been a state champion in high school. His 2014 team came in second at the Texas championships, only to have a disastrous trip to nationals. Many of those kids went on to high school, leaving Mr. Ramirez with a young, inexperienced team in 2015. Much of the book focuses on those twelve sixth and seventh graders who worked for hours after school and on weekends that year to learn to play well enough to make their dreams come true. Their roller coaster year through local tournaments, the state championship, and a triumphant national championship showcases Ramirez’s can-do spirit in an impoverished school made up mostly of immigrant kids from Mexico. Each chapter title is a rule for chess that also applies to life, and Saul Ramirez makes sure that all the players on his team learn as much about succeeding in life as they do about chess. 194 pages; grades 5-8.
Pros: This reads like an underdog movie, with a scrappy, unlikely team of young middle school students succeeding through their own sheer determination and that of their eternally optimistic teacher. Even non-chess players like myself will find plenty to enjoy and cheer about.
Cons: The hardcover’s $21.99 price tag.