Intermediate school students in the South-Western City School District are preparing for a competition that, no matter the results, will be one for the books.
For the third year, the district is holding an intramural Battle of the Books that will culminate in a competition among teams from each of South-Western's five intermediate schools on May 19. The event will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Park Street Intermediate School, 3205 Park St.
Additional participating schools are Franklin Woods, Galloway Ridge, Hayes and Holt Crossing.
The local competition follows the general format of America's Battle of the Books, a national voluntary-reading incentive program for students in grades 3-12, but South-Western chooses its own slate of books its students will read rather than following the national program's suggestions, said Stefanie Hall, a South-Western gifted-education coordinator who helps organize the district's Battle of the Books.
For the first two years, the district's gifted-instruction team compiled the list of books, Hall said. This year, South-Western's librarians took over the role.
"We always try to select books that cover a variety of genres and include writers the students know, such as Gary Paulsen or Margaret Peterson Haddix, to help increase their excitement and eagerness to participate," said Shelley Bowyer, a sixth-grade language-arts teacher who serves as one of the coaches for Holt Crossing Intermediate School's Battle of the Books team. The other coaches are fifth-grade language-arts teachers Gianna Buhrman and Courtney Bahen.
The titles on this year's list include:
* "Artemis Fowl" by Eoin Colfer
* "Indigo" by Alice Hoffman
* "Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen
* "Firegirl" by Tony Abbott
* "Crossover" by Kwame Alexander
* "Double Identity" by Margaret Peterson Haddix
* "Savvy" by Ingrid Law
* "Save Me a Seat" by Gita Varadarajan
* "Jungle of Bones" by Ben Mikaelsen
* "A Night Divided" by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Battle of the Books is designed to appeal to students who enjoy reading and to encourage other students to pick up books, Hall said.
"It's a club, so you don't have to read all 10 books unless you want to take part in the competition," she said.
"Some of the kids who join Battle of the Books are avid readers, and they enjoy the challenge of the competition, but others may not," Hall said.
The goal is to get students engaged in reading, talking about the books they read and having fun with their peers, she said.
During the round-robin competitions, students will be asked questions that can be answered with certainty only if they have read each book, Hall said.
"Each question begins with the words 'in which book ...,'" she said. "The answer only applies to one book. For example, the question might be in which book does a character visit San Francisco, and there is only one of the 10 books that could be the answer."
"The students get excited about the competition," Hall said. "Each school has its own team T-shirt. At the district competition, there's a lot of cheering and hoopla."
In 2018, Galloway Ridge won the district competition, and Franklin Woods claimed victory in 2019, Hall said.
Schools typically enter at least two teams in the competition, she said. Each team has four students.
After preliminary rounds, the number of teams is reduced to four for semifinals before the final championship round.
About 12 to 16 students attend Holt Crossing's club meetings, which are held after school on the first and third Wednesdays from October through April, save January, when one meeting was held, Boyer said. The school will hold its competition practice May 6.
"We start out the year giving our students some time to start reading the books," Boyer said. "Battle of the Books gives students who enjoy reading a chance to spend time with other students who share their interest.
"But the competitive aspect of the program can also encourage other students to have more interest in reading because it adds some excitement," she said. "It helps make reading feel less like a chore."
Holt Crossing's Battle of the Books meetings include practice rounds where students participate in test competitions that include questions they have submitted themselves, Boyer said.
Students read the 10 titles at their own pace and in the order they wish, she said.
The biweekly meetings at Holt Crossing include other activities to help engage the students in the books, including having them design and draw posters representing alternate covers for the books which incorporate two key terms from the story, Boyer said.
"They are terms that if you heard it in a question, you would know it was from that specific book, perhaps it's a city that's mentioned in that book only or an object that is featured only in one of the stories," she said.
Sixth-grader Troy Lohr is one of Holt Crossing's veterans, having participated in the Battle of the Books the past two years.
Although he likes reading books to a certain extent, Troy said, he especially enjoys the competition in Battle of the Books.
"It kind of makes you nervous, but it's also fun," he said. "When you hear a question, you've got maybe five seconds to respond before someone from the other team gets their answer in.
"I really like pressing the button" to signal to signal interest in providing the answer, Troy said.
The challenge is to remember key terms and words from the books read that will trigger the correct answer, Troy said.
Teams are also encouraged not to talk to each other during the competition, he said.
"You've got to learn to communicate with each other without saying words," Troy said.
That avoids giving the other team a clue to help it guess the right answer, he said.