By Kaye Bennett
At age 11, Anna Christiansen is already a veteran of two battles … Battles of the Books, that is. Along with her teammates, Anna has been preparing since November for Battle Day, February 14 in Schoolcraft.
Now in its 20th year, Battle of the Books (BoB) is a nationwide after-school program that encourages young people to read good books. It is sponsored locally by the Schoolcraft Community Library. This will be the first year that long-time Schoolcraft librarian Bobbi Truesdell won’t be heading up the competition. When she retired in 2014, Truesdell handed over those reins to current Schoolcraft Community Library Director Faye VanRavenswaay.
VanRavenswaay says that Battle of the Books has grown and evolved over the past two decades. Open to students in grades 4, 5, and 6 in Vicksburg, Schoolcraft and Parchment elementary schools, plus homeschoolers, last year’s competition included 192 students on 31 teams. This year there will be 36 teams. VanRavenswaay chose the 12 books for this year’s competition, and says she kept in mind Truesdell’s desire to challenge readers with “meatier” books. Each October, the reading list is provided to schools, and the race to read is on.
Jenny Taylor, a third-grade teacher at Sunset Elementary School in Vicksburg, has been a Battle coach for three years and will serve as moderator at this year’s Battle Day. As soon as the booklist comes out, Taylor says, students who want to participate divide up into teams of five or six and begin reading. Coaches, often with help from Battle parents, read the books and write student guides. Team members split up the book list, agreeing to be the expert on three or four of the books, concentrating extra efforts on those choices.
Teams meet weekly for the next few months, discussing the books, practicing saying and spelling the authors’ names (“with capitals,” says Anna), and preparing for the day of competition.
When Battle Day comes, friends and relatives of the readers fill the auditorium. This year’s questions will be read by Taylor and will increase in difficulty as the day progresses. After the question is read, team members have one minute to come up with the answer, then send their designated member to the microphone to respond. Points are awarded for correct answers, and the top four teams will return for the Grand Battle, on February 19, competing for the title of 2015 Battle of the Books champion, plus a trophy. All four finalist teams also win certificates from Kazoo Books, as well as ice cream and pizza prizes.
But the biggest value, agree Taylor and VanRavenswaay, is less tangible. “Families come back and tell us that they had a struggling reader who now loves to read,” says VanRavenswaay. Taylor’s also been impressed by the sportsmanship and accountability that Battle of the Books imparts to participants. “It teaches kids to work together and to compete in a healthy way, and the kids bond over the books,” she says.
Anna has read all 12 books on this year’s list and says that her favorites are The Penderwicks (which she first read as a third-grader and has read “many times” since) and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Her team name, MATTCH, is made up of the initials of team members, all of whom will be wearing special team T-shirts on Battle Day. This will be the last year that Anna, a sixth-grader at Vicksburg Middle School, is eligible for the Battle. VanRavenswaay says another mark of success for the event is the number of seventh and eighth graders who tell her they wish they could still be in Battle of the Books.
Battle of the Books preliminary and semi-final rounds will be held Saturday, Feb. 14, starting at 10 a.m., and the finals will be Thursday, Feb. 19, starting at 7:00 p.m. All events will be held at Schoolcraft High School’s Performing Arts Center and are open to the public and free of charge. For more information, call Faye VanRavenswaay at 269-679-5959.
Booklist for 2015 Battle of the Books
Here are the books and authors that 36 Battle of the Books teams will be quizzed about on February 14:
Prairie Evers (E. Airgood)
The Penderwicks (J. Birdsall)
Shakespeare’s Secret (E. Broach)
About Average (A. Clements)
Gingersnap (P. Giff)
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (C. Grabenstein)
One Dog and His Boy (E. Ibbotson)
If You Lived When Women Won Their Rights (A. Kamma)
A Dog Called Homeless (S. Lean)
The False Prince (J. Nielsen)
Hatchet (G. Paulsen)
Who was Dr. Seuss? (J. Pascal)