Do you remember the last book you read? Do you remember every character and plot point? Are you prepared to answer any question about any detail of that book in under 30 seconds? That’s basically what students all over the district train to do during Battle of the Books, a national reading incentive program for grades three through 12.
Two Homer teams rose above all the other Kenai Peninsula Borough School District teams in their age groups to take first at the district-level competition and will represent the peninsula at the State Championships on Feb. 27. For the team of seventh and eighth graders at Homer Middle School, this is a program first. Teacher and coach Joni Wise said she double checked and, sure enough, Homer Middle School has never had a Battle of the Books team take first at the district level before.
“It’s kind of almost like a sporting competition where the kids just get to know each other very well,” Wise said.
A team from West Homer Elementary also took first in their age group at the district competition and will compete in the State Championships as well. A team from Fireweed Academy took second in their age group.
The statewide competition takes place over Skype, Wise said, because of the cost that would be involved in getting teams from around the state to Anchorage. The competition will be stiff, though. Wise’s team just finished going up against every middle school team in the district, and will now face off against middle schools in Anchorage, Fairbanks and other major cities.
Each year, participating teachers and students are given a list of books to read. During competitions, they can be asked any factual question about those books, Wise said. The books do not change from the district competition to the State Championships, but the questions do. Wise said she was given practice questions for states that are nearly identical to those her team answered at the district competition.
During the battle, teams have 30 seconds to answer the question posed to them. They can also challenge, Wise said. For example, if a team gets a question along the lines of, “In which book did (blank) happen?” and they answer the wrong book, they can challenge and claim the book they chose also satisfies the question. A judge will then make a ruling as to whether the team gets that point.
Wise said her team challenged a few different times at the district level, some of which they won and some they didn’t.
After four rounds of competition, whichever four teams have the highest scores advance to one more final round. Their scores go back to zero, and whoever comes out of the final round with the most points is the winner of the age group.
In order to prepare, Wise said her team would meet during Homer Middle School’s enrichment time after lunch, during which she would quiz them on the books. Some of her students, though, didn’t need to be coaxed into the training.
“They were reading the books months before we were even competing,” Wise said with a laugh.
By now, some of the team members have read the eight selections four or five times each, she said.
“It’s just great to see them get excited about it,” Wise said.
The books read by the Homer Middle School team this year were “Chains,” “Thief,” “Awkward,” “Storm Breaker,” “I Lived on Butterfly Hill,” “Ruby on the Outside,” “Brown Girl Dreaming,” and “Iron Trail.” For more information on the Battle of the Books program, visit battleofthebooks.org.
Holly Alston, the coach of West Homer Elementary’s winning team, said the nice thing about the program is that it gets kids who aren’t even members of the competing teams excited about reading. In order to determine teams, teachers let kids know about the chosen books, and those interested in competing take a test. Those with the highest scores make the team.
Alston said about 20 students total participated in this year’s reading initiative for her age group, and that they still attend the literature discussion sessions she holds with another coach at lunch.
When it came to her actual team, a mix of fifth and sixth graders, Alston said it was fun for her to watch them discuss and debate their answers with each other during the battle.
“They really worked together great,” she said.
To prepare for Battle of the Books, Alston said the coaches start meeting in October and increase those meetings to twice a week for all the students reading the books with an extra meeting for just the team as the competition draws closer. She gives the kids quizes, shows them video clips about the books, and has them play games as part of studying.
“We try to make it interesting because it just makes them want to read more, and then they’ll be a lifelong reader,” Alston said.