Young book lovers prepare for battle

"I cannot live without books.” Thomas Jefferson
By Richard Ploch | Feb 26, 2014
Photo by: Richard Ploch PREPARING FOR BATTLE — Students at Bethel Elementary School prepare for the 2014 Battle of the Books during their lunch time. From left are Ansley Rhinehart, Sarah Mease, Lucas Cody and Jackson Holland.

Children today have a mountain of media choices, but books are still the best way for them to improve their vocabularies, learn proper grammar, and how to better express themselves. Those are benefits of diligent work as middle and elementary school teams of students from throughout Haywood County compete in the 2014 Battle of the Books after many months of preparation.

“The more they read and understand, the more adventures they will go on,” said Karen Kreitzburg, media coordinator at Waynesville Middle School, who leads her students into the Battle of the Books competition each year. To prepare as a team, the students arrive at 7:15 a.m. on weekday mornings to practice before school begins.

The stories in these high-quality books also help them understand the variety of people and places in the world. The characters are of diverse ethnicities, economic means, and from different places in the world, and yet are faced with universal struggles to overcome life’s challenges.

“I have learned not to judge other people,” said Waynesville Middle School student Makenzie Moore. “If people were born in other countries, they still love this country.”

“It’s in the book ‘Return to Sender,’” said Annika Mahan, speaking of the story of a Vermont family who hires migrant workers from Mexico to help save their farm from foreclosure.

Bethel and Canton Middle Schools will compete with Waynesville in this year’s competition on Friday, Feb. 28, in the quiz-bowl-style tournament to test their knowledge of the content of 26 books selected by the state Battle of the Books committee. Most have read the books on the list more than once.

Then, on Thursday, March 13, eight of the nine elementary schools in the district will send teams to the competition for fourth- and fifth-graders. At Bethel Elementary, team members bring their lunches to the library at 11:30 a.m. for practice sessions. Hard work is required for success. The list of 18 books was published last summer and students jumped in right away with their reading.

“It is fun but it’s really hard,” said fourth-grader Lucas Cody. “I read the books last summer and again this year and I’m reading some three times.”

Media specialist Diana Gray and literacy coach Alma Wells lead the team. On the day of the battle, the students’ ability to work as a team is critical to success. They are asked questions about small details within the books and whisper together to correctly identify and then announce the correct title and author of the book to the judge. If one team answers incorrectly, another school’s team may take the points away with a right answer.

Sarah Mease, a fifth-grade student at Bethel Elementary, was chosen for her school’s team for the second year.

“I like the books and have to pay attention to small details to answer the question,” said Mease.

She knows that the Battle of the Books teaches sportsmanship and cooperation as well as an appreciation for good stories. Mease also understands that a broader vocabulary and the ability to express herself will play an important role in her future success.

As the state Battle of the Books committee has stated, “The game format creates interest and excitement in reading. Through the fun and excitement of the competition, students improve reading skills, mature in their choices of reading materials, and acquire a broader knowledge base. Even during the height of the competition, students and coaches should remember that the goal is to read, not necessarily to win.”