At first glance, it appears to be a game show: A man in a suit reads out questions. Participants press buzzers as quickly as they can. Scores are displayed on a large projector screen.
And it’s all about books.
Teams of fourth- and fifth-graders put their reading skills to the test when they went head to head in the Vancouver Public Schools district’s Battle of the Books competition held Saturday morning at the Vancouver Community Library.
“It keeps them reading, but also challenges them even further,” said Mary Vander Ploeg, teacher and librarian at Hazel Dell Elementary School and one of the organizers of the event.
Throughout the year, librarians at elementary schools across Vancouver put out a list of books. Interested students form teams and read the books, getting together to test their knowledge of the material. Librarians then form questions about the books and hold quiz show-style competitions, called battle of the books.
The top teams from each school meet at the end of the year for a districtwide competition.
The idea for the local competitions started with Ron Wagner.
While working as a student teacher in Oregon, Wagner saw a competition and was impressed.
“It was amazing to see the kids really knew the books they read,” he said. “It showed a comprehension level that was impressive.”
Students are asked about plot points, character motivations and other details in the upper elementary fiction and nonfiction stories.
Wagner started a team when he became a teacher-librarian at Felida Elementary School and before long, news spread and other Vancouver elementary schools joined in.
Eventually, librarians from the schools got together to hold a district-wide competition which is now in its fourth year.
For those competitions, organizers put out a list of 10 books for the students to read before the competition.
Wagner said that he likes seeing kids willing to try new things — such as boys reading “girl” books and girls reading “boy” books. But he also liked seeing the students feel pride in their hobbies.
“Some of these kids, they’re not the sports hero, they’re not the popular kids. … It’s a fun way for these kids to stand out,” he said.
Danette Lacki’s daughter Sofia is part of Hazel Dell Elementary School’s team, the Super Trapmasters.
“She does sports, but this is one of my favorite of her activities,” she said. “It’s a real family activity for us. … She’ll tell me about all the books she’s reading. It’s fun to see her show people what she knows. Plus, she’s competitive.”
Lacki said that Sofia and her teammates divvied up which books to read to have a better chance, but that her daughter couldn’t help herself.
“Sofia’s a ravenous reader so she has read all of them,” she said. “She’s always in a book.”
After the final battle came down to the last question, the Witches of the West from Felida Elementary School won the competition.
Taegan Benke, one of the four fifth-graders on the team, said it was great to win.
She said she enjoys reading because it feels like entering an entirely new world.
“Ending a really good book is sad,” she said. How she gets over it? “I read another book.”