‘My blood ran cold. The Black Queen was looking down at me from out of the sun.’
I recently read this story with a group of 9-10 year olds and they absolutely loved it! I had read this book myself about five years ago and reading it again was a refreshing reminder of how Michael Morpurgo truly has the ability to spin a good yarn. The language is simple, the story is engaging and many times during the book Morpurgo leads the reader down the garden path only to introduce another twist. No wonder he is regarded as ‘a master storyteller.’ Matched with the illustrations of Tony Ross, this book is the perfect read for the child who appreciates a good story.
The novel centres around Billy and his relationship with his new neighbour Mrs. Blume. Billy and his family have just moved house and he quickly learns that everyone calls her the Black Queen because she always wears black clothes and stays indoors. Her only friend seems to be her black cat called Rambo.
One day, Billy ends up meeting the Black Queen when his little sister’s pet rabbit sneaks under the garden fence into his neighbours garden. Up close, she seems even more strange and Billy is afraid that she will cast some kind of spell on him. Before he knows it, he is somehow left in charge of feeding her cat while the Black Queen goes off to New York to visit her son.
What I love about this story is that late on, it takes an interesting turn. World Chess Champion, Greg McInley, is also in New York taking on a supercomputer called Purple. With a prize of five million pounds at stake, the whole world is watching and Billy begins to suspect that the Black Queen and Greg McInley know each other. This part of the story is of course based on the real life chess matches between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue in the 1990’s.
As the story winds to a climax, it seems that everything is falling into place. Billy feels that he finally understands the Black Queen and the reader even is confident that her true identity has been rumbled. However, Michael Morpurgo has one small twist left to his tale…
Would I recommend this book to a friend?
At less than a hundred pages and with eight short chapters, this story is a nice simple read ideal for bedtime or independent reading. It is also perfect for use in the classroom. The twists and turns make is an interesting read for the adult reader too!