Last Monday I spent most of the day in wonderful company--a room full of book geeks. Mondays are my scheduled day off , a fact I foolishly lamented at the beginning of the school year. I was upset there was only funding for me to work four days a week, but now that I have fully embraced the concept of three day weekends I can't imagine a more perfect arrangement... but back to the geeks.
The small school district where I work decided to have its own Battle of the Books this year. Usually our nine schools send teams to the Santa Barbara County "battle" but because of state testing schedules that wasn't possible this year. So on Monday, 80 students and 8 media specialists converged on the Goleta Valley Community Center to challenge each others' knowledge about a pre-selected and pre-read list of books. To reduce school rivalry and encourage students to get to know each other, the organizers made sixteen teams comprised of students from different schools. Team names (e.g. The Random Musketeers, The Awesome Palm Trees, and Inky Readers) and personalized "battle shields" (made from pizza pans) were created before the four rounds of battles began. The excitement was building.
The battles were fun. Kids needed to identify the correct title and author (two bonus points) to answer each question. Stealing questions was allowed if a team gave a wrong answer. Competitive spirits blossomed but for the most part honorable behavior prevailed. As motivation, it was announced that a prize would be awarded to the team with the best sportsmanship. Not sure that this bribe was necessary, but the winning team was very delighted with the reward of new books that they received at the end of the day.
After a morning of preliminary battles, the final battle of the day took place after lunch. The two top teams took to the stage and the questions were read by favorite local author Val Hobbs. Her delightful book, Sheep, had just been honored by California readers as the winner of the California Young Reader Medal for middle grade fiction and the audience was thrilled to meet her. Val gave a brief speech, including an explanation of how her "almost" pet border collie inspired her to write Sheep, signed books and due to school bus schedules finessed an extended period of q & a with eager readers.
The question and answer session was my favorite part of the day. Every question was thoughtfully asked, and answered respectfully. I know Val Hobbs as a teacher and friend, and I have to admit that I learned a lot of new things about her from her responses to the students. It was a safe environment--no chance of ridicule for being an inquisitive book geek since the room was full of us. The kids were completely engaged. I was, too.