Battle of the Books puts reading in the spotlight

Competition helps 'create a book culture' among area youth

Daisy Mays of Laurel Tree Charter School talks with teammates about an answer during a “Family Fued” style portion of the during Battle of the Books in Eureka on Friday. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)
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The Humboldt County Office of Education played host to the fourth annual Battle of the Books at the Sequoia Conference Center in Eureka on Friday and the competition came down to a showdown between the Blue Oxen and the Mysterious Seven, the last two teams remaining standing after the preliminary rounds.

In the end, the Mysterious Seven, a team of six members from schools across the county, would be proclaimed champions after the final round of questions had been completed and the scores added up.

The Battle of the Books event isn’t just a one-day competition, it’s the culmination of about eight months of work — planning, reading, studying — done by the 45 students participating in this year’s Friday event.

“It’s a way for them to bond over books and it creates a book culture where they are able to connect with other kids who have similar interests,” said Rachel Dilthey, fourth-grade teacher and Battle of the Books coordinator at Trinidad Elementary. “They love it, they get very excited about their books and they recommend books to each other.”

Dilthey brought a total of 16 students from Trinidad Elementary and they were joined by students from schools such as Freshwater, Fortuna and Laurel Hill. One of the key concepts about the competition is that it’s not school versus school, but team versus team.

“I build teams that are mixed with kids from different schools on the same team,” said Ryan Keller, library media specialist with HCOE and organizer of the event. “I want students to make friends with kids from around the county because we’re really all here because we love books and reading. It’s all about that love and connecting with others in a friendly competition.”

The competition might be friendly but it was also hectic as the eight teams of students lined up for round four, a relay competition in which one student ran to the seated volunteer asking questions and then ran back to their teammates either with the answer or for help with the answer. Once a team had successfully answered all 12 questions, the relay ended and the scores were tallied up with the top two finishers headed to the final round.

A team of students listens to a question during Battle of the Books. (Shaun Walker — The Times-Standard)

The questions revolved around a book’s title, author and plot. For Ilana Maclay, a fifth-grade student at Trinidad Elementary, the chance to meet other students and learn about new books was irresistible.

“I think meeting new people and seeing how far you can get with those people is the best part. It’s fun to see new people and have a good time,” said Maclay, a veteran of the Battle of the Books taking part in her second competition. “It’s really cool and there might be someone you know on your team and there may be someone you might not know. I was here last year and see a lot of people who were here last year and, finally this year, I had somebody from my class on my team.”

Maclay was not shy in sharing her love of books and of reading. Her excitement was palpable as she spoke about what makes this event and reading in general so enjoyable.

“I love fiction stories,” she said. “It makes you want to be there. You want to be that main character with the wind blowing in your hair as you ride a horse down the hill or maybe you’re a secret agent!”

The competition began at 10 a.m. and the attendees spent the first 30 minutes or so forming teams, coming up with team names and badges and generally getting to know one another before the competition started. There were more than a dozen volunteers on hand, primarily parents, and the kids also interacted with local guest author and retired school teacher Peter Jain. The winning students were awarded $20 gift certificates to Eureka Books and a copy of Jain’s book “Can Emu Really Sing, Jambo?”

For fifth-grade student John Adams, not only does the competition feature one of his favorite activities, reading, it’s also a chance to learn about books and authors he may have never encountered before.

“I like seeing the different books the people pick every year,” Adams said during a break in the action. “I like reading new books and, last year, a new book became my favorite book, ‘Masterminds’ by Gordon Korman.”

Adams, another Trinidad veteran taking part in his second competition, was having a lot of fun but he wasn’t too sanguine about his team’s chances as the final round loomed.

“I’d say we don’t have a good chance to get to the final and if we do I will be amazed, but I still had a lot of fun,” Adams said as the scores from the four preliminary rounds were tallied. “I like competitions and I like reading books and when I heard about this it sparked my interest and I did it. I did it last year, too.”

When the final questions had been answered and the final scores had been tallied it was the Mysterious Seven who reigned supreme.

Mason Cahill (Fortuna), Carlos Carrion (Trinidad), Kloee Donnelly (Trinidad), Jonah Dedni (Freshwater), Ruby Smith (Freshwater) and Hazel Hall (Laurel Tree) were the competition winners, but for Dilthey, the ultimate award is establishing a life-long love of books and reading.

“Nobody wants to read a stinker book, they want to read good books that interest them,” Dilthey said. “It’s like a New York Times best-seller list for kids’ books and geared for fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-grade reading. They share titles, they share authors and they recommend books to each other. It’s about them loving books and reading and continuing to have conversations about books and creating friendships over books.”

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.

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