Hikaru No Go, Volumes 1-11
by Yumi Hotta
published by Viz Media
Three boys in my classroom are completely absorbed by this series. All three are very different readers. One is a very capable reader who, up until Hikaru had been plowing through the Warriors series at an amazing rate. He is an avid member of our school's chess club. Another, a good reader, has had a hard time finding and staying committed to books this year. He is a beginning member of our school's chess club. The third is one of my reading success stories for the year -- now a pretty good reader, but one who still needs the picture supports that a graphic novel offers. Hikaru No Go has been the right book(s) at the right time for all three boys in three very different ways.
Hikaru No Go ("Hikaru's Go") is a native manga series -- originally published in Japan, it reads right to left. In the story, Hikaru finds a bloodstained Go board in his grandfather's shed. (Go is an ancient Asian strategy game.) The spirit of an ancient Go master, Sai, who hasn't played Go in a really, really long time (not since he possessed a Go player back in the Edo period in Japan) inhabits Hikaru's mind. Hikaru doesn't know anything about Go and, in the beginning of the series, has no desire to learn. It's the perfect set-up for the reader to learn about Go right along with Hikaru. At first, Hikaru lets Sai play through him, but eventually, Hikaru becomes a good player on his own.
Besides reading the books, this trio has started playing Go every chance they get. They began on a 9x9 board (a grid) that one of them drew on paper, using "stones" that he cut from two colors of scratch paper. They have progressed to using the grid of a checkers board and the half-marbles that previously were used for Mancala. Rumor has it that one of them is getting a real Go board soon, and they are looking into playing Go online.
In writing workshop and in enrichment time, two of them have been working on a detailed report about Go, and the third has created a very basic beginner's guide to getting started in the game. As they teach their friends to play Go, they are bringing new readers to the series.
These books were in my classroom all year last year and they never caught on. They may never be quite the hit they've been this year for these readers. But they've more than paid their rent for their shelf space in my classroom!