Battle of the Books Sharpens Students Reading Skills

By Sue Moore

In its 23rd year, the Battle of the Books will take place at the Schoolcraft High School Performing Arts Center on Saturday, February 17. Parents and grandparents will be on hand to cheer their fourth, fifth and sixth grade students in their quest for advancing to the Grand Battle stage on Thursday, February 22.

Over 31 teams of five to seven students from Parchment, Schoolcraft and Vicksburg school districts will match wits with each other when asked questions directed to them from Schoolcraft Librarian Faye VanRavenswaay. She will be assisted by Jenny Taylor, a teacher at Vicksburg’s Sunset Elementary school.

Taylor and VanRavenswaay sit at the judges table together. Faye does the introductions and rules (as the program coordinator) and Jenny asks the questions (as moderator). They selected the books together again this year and always confer on answers and/or challenges. “Jenny is so great to work with each year- we make a great team,” VanRavenswaay said.

One of the coaches, Karin Lynch, a middle school teacher in Schoolcraft, was hand-picked by her students to be their coach. She had coached seven years ago when her children were participating, but decided it was time to get back into the game with the Insane Battlers. This all-boy team chose the name and then were brave enough to choose Lynch as their coach. She couldn’t say no.

“The kids do most of the work onstage, under a good deal of pressure,” Lynch said. “It’s a lot like test taking and teaches the youngsters some of life’s lessons. They must consider if they don’t know the answer, is it better to give it a try anyway and hope to score some sort of points or just not say anything?”

Since being away from the fray for seven years and coming back, Lynch has noticed more teamwork among the coaches. She said they now get together to share questions, have mock battles, review books and cooperate amongst themselves. Some of the students who have aged out like to come back and help with questions that improve the reading comprehension of the team as they review the books while practicing. They must read and comprehend 12 books of various genres and do not know what questions will be asked of them on the day of the Battle.

Tara Allgor Storteboom, a Schoolcraft native now teaching second grade in Comstock is coaching the Novel Ninjas with co-coach Havilah Macinnes. “There are some books that kids might not pick up on their own to read from the set list. It can start their love of reading books they never had before. It gives them a deeper understanding by reading the books two or three times through and then having to answer questions about the contents,” she said.

The teams have been preparing for the Battle since October, when the book list was published. The books were available in school and public libraries.

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