Battle of the Books by Eric Bindewald | Teacher Librarian | Sacajawea Elementary School

Marshall accidentally “buzzed in” due to the adrenaline rush that took control of his pointer finger. Teammates turned to Marshall with bated breath while he stared at the emcee as though he was just caught peeing in the library.  The five seconds of silence seemed like an eternity. As each second passed, Marshall’s expression repeatedly screamed, “I DIDN’T PUSH THAT BUTTON!”  

The emcee broke the silence, “Well, I can’t repeat the question since you buzzed in before I finished. But, I will need you to give me an answer.” For the next ten seconds, the emcee, spectators, Marshall’s teammates and competitors all replayed the first nine words of the question in their minds, “In the book Pax, why did Pax chase Runt…”

Marshall was on fire that day, and he wasn’t going to let an ill-timed finger-twitch stop his team from securing a spot in the school’s championship battle.  As though he wrote the question himself, Marshall answered, “Because Bristle gets irritated with Runt when he is around Pax.” The emcee’s jaw hit the floor… Marshall answered correctly!  The library erupted with cheers.

This was a scene from one of the weekly Battle of the Books matches at Sacajawea Elementary. Marshall’s team eventually went on to win the school’s championship battle and compete in the Vancouver School District battle at the downtown location of the Fort Vancouver Regional Library. While such intense moments may not be commonplace during a school’s regular season battles, the district championship is always filled with such moments.

The Battle of the Books program is one tool that Teacher Librarians at both the elementary and secondary levels use to meet the goal of turning students into powerful readers.  One student named Ryan began his fifth grade year with fall iReady literacy scores at a beginning third grade level. He wanted to join a Battle of the Books team to compete against his brother.  Like all battle contestants, Ryan was accountable to his teammates to read a minimum of four books from the battle book list. He read his minimum, and many more. Ryan ended the regular season as one of the top five point scorers at his school.  Even more impressive, his spring iReady literacy scores were all at benchmark. What?!?! Two and a half grade levels in a single school year?!?! When asked how he did it, Ryan replied, “Being on a Battle of the Books team made me want to read all the books on the list.  The more books I read, the better I got at it.” Ryan’s personal testimony provides anecdotal support to research studies that show a correlation between time spent reading and reading achievement gains.

School’s throughout the district have numerous students who join battle teams because of the competitive aspect.  The battle participants revel in the competition and the cheers from spectators. And like school sports teams, battle teams focus on teamwork and sportsmanship.  Whatever the reason a student joins a team… these readers become more powerful!

If you happen to see any of the 2018 Truman Elementary Trailblazers battle team, be sure to tell them congratulations on their district championship.  And, when you happen to see your Teacher Librarians, tell them you support their efforts to keep making powerful readers.