“Battles is fought every day” in 11-year-old Marcus’s ’hood. Not only has his father abandoned the family, but his sister has recently died, leaving him frustrated, angry and ready to fight—even with his worried, red-eyed mother and his younger twin brothers. Just as his volatility starts to get him into real trouble, Marcus meets a Yoda-like chess master and ex-con in the school library who challenges him to a game of chess. At first, Marcus’s “opening move” is to hurl the chessboard groundward, but in time, he learns to master the game—and his temper. Marcus tells his story in street slang, in a conversational first-person voice. (While the narrative is presented as free verse, the lines break more randomly than poetically.) The acrylic black-and-white illustrations are particularly effective at capturing natural expressions and the concrete-gray inner-cityscape, though the abundant chess imagery that surfaces in unlikely places feels overdone. There’s plenty of powerful emotion here, but the heavy dose of life lessons leaves the overall effort a few moves short of a checkmate. (Fiction/poetry. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2007

ISBN: 978-1-58430-279-7

Page Count: 64

Publisher: Lee & Low Books

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2007


From the Legendary Alston Boys series , Vol. 1

This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative,...

Can this really be the first time readers meet the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County? Cousins and veteran sleuths Otto and Sheed Alston show us that we are the ones who are late to their greatness.

These two black boys are coming to terms with the end of their brave, heroic summer at Grandma’s, with a return to school just right around the corner. They’ve already got two keys to the city, but the rival Epic Ellisons—twin sisters Wiki and Leen—are steadily gaining celebrity across Logan County, Virginia, and have in hand their third key to the city. No way summer can end like this! These young people are powerful, courageous, experienced adventurers molded through their heroic commitment to discipline and deduction. They’ve got their shared, lifesaving maneuvers committed to memory (printed in a helpful appendix) and ready to save any day. Save the day they must, as a mysterious, bendy gentleman and an oversized, clingy platypus have been unleashed on the city of Fry, and all the residents and their belongings seem to be frozen in time and place. Will they be able to solve this one? With total mastery, Giles creates in Logan County an exuberant vortex of weirdness, where the commonplace sits cheek by jowl with the utterly fantastic, and populates it with memorable characters who more than live up to their setting.

This can’t be the last we ever hear of the Legendary Alston Boys of the purely surreal Logan County—imaginative, thrill-seeking readers, this is a series to look out for. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-328-46083-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Versify/HMH

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019


As she lovingly details the comfortable disarray of a perfectly splendid staircase, a small mouse counts off the stairs in a game she has clearly played many times. The rhyme skips and leaps from “First step. Rain step,” because that’s where her puddle boots are, to the third step, where the window seat is, to the sixth, where she can peer into her own bedroom, to the eleventh where the night light lives, and the twelfth where she can go back down and start again. She’s accompanied by her little sister and readers catch a glimpse at the end of a mother, father, and baby, too. The details are whimsical, and the rhyme infectious. A real treat, perfectly centered on a small child’s perceptions and experience. (Picture book. 3-7)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-886910-34-0

Page Count: 32

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1999