Brain battle

Book savvy students compete with clever-edged answers


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Battle of the Books Fire Lake Elementary School team, Laila Williams, Hayden Spackman, Madison Wolf, Gabe Parsons

CINTHIA RITCHIE

Think you’re as smart as a fifth grader?

OK, answer this: In what book are boogers used as ammunition?

If you answered, “Modern Fairies, Dwarves, Goblins and other Nasties” by Lesley M. Blume, pat yourself on the back and award yourself eight points.

The question was one of many posed at this year’s Battle of the Books 5th and 6th grade competition Feb. 3 at West High School. High school, middle school and 3rd-4th grade battles took place on separate days.

Battle of the Books is a nationwide competition that encourages students to read. Geared for grades 3rd-12th, the program follows a format similar to a game show, with four students teams (three players and one alternate) answering questions within a 30-second time limit.

According to Heidi Tsukada, 5th and 6th grade event coordinator, book selections include a variety of reading and comprehension levels, with 25 percent of the books below grade level, 50 percent on grade level and 25 percent above grade level.

“We do our best to even out the playing field,” she said. “We want our kids to be challenged at a level where they’re comfortable but we also want to push them, too.”

Selections for the 5th and 6th grade teams included “Schooled” by Gordon Korman, “Girl Who Could Fly” by Victoria Foster and, striking fear into every child’s heart since they must remember not only the title but author as well, “Secret Identity” by Wendlin Van Draanaen.

Chugiak-Eagle River had six teams competing in the 5th-6th grade battles, two each from Mirror Lake Middle School and Fire Lake and Birchwood ABC elementary schools.

Teams competed in four rounds, with nine questions per round.

At the end of each round teams moved to a new room, with a new judge, scorekeeper and timer.

Battle of the Books questions are purposefully detailed and intricate.

“Most of the students read the books multiple times,” Tsukada said.

She sees the purpose of the competition as a way of introducing students to what she hopes turns into a lifelong love of reading while also giving them an academic competition comparable to athletic events.

“We survey the kids after every battle and they say, over and over, that they love having a competition that recognizes them outside of sports,” she said.

Reading is often considered nerdy, she said. At Battle of the Books, it rules.

Brandon Sterlin of the Birchwood team enjoyed “Wonkensten” the best of all the BOB selections.

“I liked how the creature came out of his closet,” he said.

He read the book about four times and the other books at least once, sometimes more depending on how well he enjoyed the subject matter.

Matthew Bryants said “Secret Identity” was his favorite. He read it eight times.

“I liked how he stood up for all of the kids,” he said.

He read all of the books except for one over and over.

The Birchwood team ended up placing 7th with 160 points.

“I think we could have done a little better but I’m happy,” he said.

Dominic O’Neill liked “Eleven” the best.

“It was kind of cool figuring out the mystery of his being adopted,” he said.

This is what Tsukada loves most about the Battle of the Books competitions: It brings together kids who love to read, who love books, who love talking about books.

Yet she’s worried. The BOB budget was slashed two years ago, from about $16,500 to $795.

“That’s not even enough to cover the awards,” she added.

Thankfully, they had enough awards left from previous years to cover this year’s competition.

Last year, BOB lost seven formerly participating schools and this year, six more.

This, Tsukada surmised, is due to the inability of teachers to obtain funding to hire substitutes to take over their classroom while attending competitions.

Athletic departments were cut around 10 percent, she said, and yet the Battle of the Books competition lost the majority of its budget.

“It’s really sad,” she said.

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