Chess Rumble

By G. Neri
Illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson

G. Neri photo
Author, G. Neri

G. Neri, an award-winning filmmaker whose work has earned him several honors, discusses his latest storytelling endeavor. Written in rhythmic free verse, Chess Rumble is the story of a boy who discovers, with the help of a unique mentor and the game of chess, that he can respond to difficult situations in ways other than fighting.

Inspired by his editor, Jennifer Fox, who had wanted to do an urban chess story for years and finally saw the possibility of making it come to life through him, Neri dived into the project with unbridled enthusiasm. “I loved the idea of using chess strategy as a way to approach life. I had dealt with a few teens who had come from troubled pasts and had difficulty finding an outlet for their inner struggle. So the idea of pairing a kid like this with a chess mentor who did not back down came naturally. It was a very organic process, and I let the characters tell me their stories.”

As Neri began working on the book, he encountered the challenge of creating an authentic voice for the protagonist. Not having written in verse for mG. Neri photoany years, Neri did not anticipate that Chess Rumble would take on a poetic form. The story inadvertently evolved into poetry. According to Neri, he was working on two stories—one about a tough love chess mentor and the other about an angry teen who was one fight away from being kicked out of school—when he “realized they belonged together.” Describing his writing process, he says, “I made two columns in a Word document and started copying one story into the other. I ended up with one long, thin column; and suddenly I could see the power of using poetic line breaks,” which were initially accidental but which grew to “emphasize the sound of Marcus’s voice.” The story fell into place very quickly after that, and with Alice Walker’s early poems in mind, the author was compelled to keep going.

Asked what other unexpected turns this project took along the way, Neri claims that the whole book surprised him. “I had no idea this story was in me; but once I started, it took off on its own and I just ran to keep up. The whole format surprised me too. I thought it would be a picture book, but it became its own unique beast: an illustrated free-verse novella. The whole project was an organic experience that really took me for a ride!”

Neri hopes that readers will come away from Chess Rumble “think[ing] about their lives and the choices they make before they make them.” Pressed to continue, Neri says, “I hope they are intrigued to play chess, and maybe start thinking about acting on, instead of reacting to, negative situations. Acting considers what can happen if you make one choice versus another. Reacting just responds impulsively to the problem instead of thinking ahead three steps and maybe making a better choice.”

Neri’s advice to new writers: “If you can live without writing, stop and live your life. If you can’t, then you have no choice but to be a writer. Be patient, persistent, and work hard at it. The world will catch up to you.”

About This Title

Guided Reading:




Interest Level:

Grades 3 - 8

Reading Level:

Grades 4 - College


Middle Grade, YA interest, Sports, Identity/Self Esteem/Confidence, Responsibility, Poetry, Overcoming Obstacles, Multiethnic interest, Mentors, Games/Toys, Friendship, Forgiveness, Families, Education, Dreams & Aspirations, Coping with Death, Conflict resolution, Childhood Experiences and Memories, Bullying, African/African American Interest, Empathy/Compassion, Gratitude, Integrity/Honesty , Leadership, Persistence/Grit, Realistic Fiction, Respect/Citizenship, Self Control/Self Regulation, Pride, Teen Interest


African American English Collection High School, African American English Collection Middle School, Death & Grief, Diverse Background English Collection High School, Diverse Background English Collection Middle School, English Fiction Grades 6-12, English Fiction Middle School, Lee & Low Poetry Collection, Poetry Grades 3-6, Poetry High School, Realistic Fiction High School, Realistic Fiction Middle School, RITELL Middle & High School Collection , Poetry Middle School, Appendix B Diverse Collection Grades 3-6, Bullying/Anti-Bullying Collection, Back to School Collection Grades 3-5, African American English Collection Grades 3-6, Realistic Fiction Grades 3-5, Fluent Dual Language , Pedro Noguera Diverse Collection Grades 3-5, Pedro Noguera Diverse Collection Grades 6-8, Pedro Noguera Reluctant Readers Collection , Pedro Noguera Diverse Collection Grades 9-12, Fluent English, African American Collection English 6PK, Teaching Tough Topics with Children's Literature Webinar, English Guided Reading Level V, Social and Emotional Learning Collection, Recognizing & Managing Emotions Collection, Trauma-Informed Collection, At Home Collection for Grades 6-8, High-Low Books for Teens: Middle and High School, Immigrant Connection Family Resource Night Collection

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