by Traci Glass
I want to share with you my very, very favorite program and collaboration idea. I used to live and work in Arizona where I ran the Battle of the Books Program in collaboration with the wonderful school librarians in the Gilbert School District while I was a Children’s Librarian at the Southeast Regional Library. The truly awesome Friends of the Southeast Regional Library sponsored the program. Together we helped 5th and 6th graders read wonderful books, analyze them, and meet new friends in a program that lasted throughout the school year and culminated in an end of the year City Battle. Never heard of Battle of the Books? Let me give you a basic rundown…
Since I am most familiar with Arizona’s system, I will give you the heads-up on that, even though from what research I’ve done on the program, it’s pretty similar from state to state. At the beginning of the school year, the school librarians from the participating schools would ask for those who were interested in the program to sign-up to participate. No one was turned away; some schools had 20 teams and some schools had 5 teams. Each team was to have 3 members, unless the total number of participants was not divisible by 3 — in this case there might be a couple of 2 person teams thrown in, as well. 5th and 6th graders read a total of 12 books over the course of a school year; this was broken up into 3 battles where the teams battled on 4 books. The final school battle, which determined which teams would be sent to the Regional Battle, was a battle on all 12 books at once. I couldn’t even remember a lot of the details from the books we all read earlier in the school year — the kids were amazing at really studying and remembering those details! The Regional Battle, also a battle of all 12 books, determined what team went on to the City Battle, where Gilbert and Higley teams competed against teams from Mesa and Chandler schools.
Each battle was split into 2 rounds — Phase I and Phase II. Phase I questions always started off with “In what book…” The student had to provide the correct book title with all the appropriate articles (a, an, the) for 5 points; if the student provided the author’s name, the team received an extra 3 bonus points. Those articles really provided for some nail biting action — books like The Watsons Go to Birmingham — 1963 had both a “the” and a year at the end; kids were really careful to get the title exactly right, which is exactly what we wanted — we wanted them to know that every word of a title is important! Phase II questions were trivia questions, “In the book Maniac Magee…” We wanted them to give us facts from the book like the color of a character’s shoes or a book that a character reads.
I loved doing Battle of the Books. I met so many students who then made an effort to come into the public library to see me — some remarking that they had never been there before! I formed many positive relationships with 5th and 6th graders that I continued to see and visit with until I moved to Oregon last year. Another wonderful thing about public librarians participating in a Battle of the Books program is the relationships you build with the school librarians — always good friends to have! I loved working with local school librarians to promote reading! Plus, they would promote activities of ours, and we made sure to keep all of the local school’s AR lists so kids could pick out their books, even if they forgot their list at home. Another great advantage to collaborating on the Battle of the Books program was our Literature Studies program which many local school librarians and teachers took advantage of. We bought numerous copies of Battle books — they were reused every 3 or 4 years so school libraries could save money and still participate in the program. We often bought up to 60 copies of many of the “Classic” Battle titles to loan out during Battle season to school librarians who didn’t have a lot of copies in the libraries or a lot of money to buy excess copies. In the off season of a particular book, when it wasn’t being used in the Battle program, we would make sets of them available to school librarians or teachers. That way, the librarian or teacher would have a whole classroom set to conduct lessons; every student was guaranteed a book without having to go outside the school library to get it! It was very rewarding to hear stories from students and teachers who read Number the Stars while participating in a classroom lesson on the Holocaust!
I have had reservations from fellow staff and parents who feel that Battle of the Books is just promoting a competition attitude around something that is supposed to be fun. I totally understand their worries — I’ve never been a big fan of competition in schools. However, once I started going and running Battles, I was swayed to thinking this was very positive. Most of the students went on to read other works by authors we featured in Battles just because they liked the book by that author that they read for Battle. Also, I’ve never seen more positive teamwork among students. We had strong rules against having bad attitudes — but I never had to reprimand anyone for being rude to other students — ever. All students in Battles I ran were courteous and supportive of their classmates. Once teams moved past their school battles to the Regional semi-finals, oftentimes the teams they battled against in their schools came out to the Regional Battle to cheer their fellow classmates on! Finally, kids were excited to be reading books that were often overlooked. We tended to choose classics — we didn’t have a lot of the newest popular titles because we figured they’d be reading those anyways, and we wanted to stick to books widely available in paperback. It felt good to introduce them to favorites of mine — books they’d never read before! I’ve had the most positive experiences of my career as a Librarian running Battles and working collaboratively with School Librarians — I truly miss it!
So, if you want a good way to network with students outside of your public library or you want to get to know local school librarians better, look into making Battle of the Books a reality in your area Your local schools might already be running Battles, but they might need your help! The joy of reading awaits you!