By Sue Moore
Michael Spradlin, a New York Times bestselling author of children’s books, will be the special guest at the Grand Battle of the Books Feb. 20 at the Schoolcraft Performing Arts Center.
The Battle, in its 27th year, is sponsored by the Schoolcraft Library. Teams of six to seven students in grades 4-6 are charged with reading 12 selected books over four months. They then compete in the all-day Battle on Saturday, February 15 hoping to be one of four teams competing in a Grand Battle on Thursday, February 20. It’s highly competitive, with questions posed by Jenny Taylor, Vicksburg third grade teacher. The teams earn points for the right answers.
Taylor has been involved in the Battle, first as a coach when her daughter was in grade school, now as the coordinator in conjunction with the Library. She was asked to step in when the Battle’s founder, Bobbie Truesdell, decided to retire. Taylor chooses the 12 books by reading tons of children’s books over a year’s time. She almost always chooses an animal story, a mystery or historical fiction, with an emphasis on appealing to both boys and girls. “I can’t recommend books for my classroom if I’m not well-read, so it’s time well spent.”
“Each year as I assemble Battle books and reread them, I realize that I’ve unknowingly chosen books that can all fit under an umbrella theme. For example, last year, all of the characters had grit. This year the theme is ‘kids are mighty.’ We have children exonerating military captains. We have children fiercely protecting loved ones, solving murder mysteries, making a person’s last day on earth unforgettable. We have children loving animals unconditionally, fighting evil wizards, turning a failing town into an exciting tourist destination, etc. Children can skip school for a day to learn more valuable lessons than any scripted lesson we could teach them. I wanted to leave my battle experience and all children believing that they are mighty and can change the world!” Taylor says, as she plans this to be her last year leading the Battle book selection.
Spradlin’s visit coincides with his guest appearances at Vicksburg Elementary, Parchment and Schoolcraft schools as a speaker. He is being sponsored by the PTO organizations at each school. And team from Vicksburg’s Sunset Lake Elementary won a $250 Curiosity Grant from the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation to help pay for Spradlin’s appearance.
The author specializes in speaking to young students. He talks about his journey through the writing process. He takes an idea and weaves it into a story. He offers some practical advice for immediately improving student writing while telling them what to do if they “get stuck” in the process. The number one thing he emphasizes in good writing is being a reader, first and foremost.
One of the 12 books that Taylor selected for this year’s Battle was “Into the Killing Seas,” by Spradlin. It’s a war book about the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in the Pacific Ocean. Even though it can be a bit dark, Taylor says that Spradlin does a beautiful job of leaving what happens to the reader’s imagination.
The book was not available in paperback which is what the Battle prefers to the cost of hard-cover books. Taylor contacted Spradlin personally, asking for his help in obtaining his book in quantity. He was able to come up with 180 copies all together for a total cost of $535, far below the cover price hard-cover copies of “Into the Killing Seas.”
The kids are excited to have him here and plan to have him sign the copies they are using to study for the Battle, Taylor said.