Under the bright lights of the Ketchikan High School auditorium on Thursday, a battle was unfolding between local third- and fourth-grade students.
Once again, the time had come for the annual Battle of the Books competition.
On Thursday morning, one team from each local elementary school filed onstage and took seats behind a line of microphones. The competitors were armed only with a dry-erase marker and a lap-sized whiteboard.
The Battle of the Books, sponsored by the Alaska Association of School Librarians, is a statewide program that aims to inspire students to read more.
“The goals of the program are to encourage and recognize students who enjoy reading, broaden reading interests, increase reading comprehension, and promote academic excellence,” stated the program's website.
Every spring, the program releases a collection of titles for students to read throughout the year. The number and reading difficulty of the books are based on grade level. Students in kindergarten through high school can participate, and are slotted into different grade brackets.
The competing students have all year to study these books before the battles begin. During a battle, students compete to answer questions about the books that they read.
This year, the reading list consisted of 12 titles — “Cardboard Kingdom” by Chad Sell, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Road Dahl, “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground” by Rita Williams-Garcia, “Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker, “Crenshaw” by Katherine Applegate, “Invisible Inkling” by Emily Jenkins, “Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans!” by Gary Northfield, “Let's Get Cracking!” by Cyndi Marko, “Quest of the Cubs” by Kathryn Lasky, “Rump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin” by Liesl Shurtliff,” “When I Was Eight” by Christy Jordan-Fenton and “My Family Adventure” by Jacqueline Jules.
The battles begin at the individual school level, during which students are competing with their classmates. After this battle, the winning team from that school goes on to compete in a district-level battle against other schools.
During Thursday morning's district battle, Fawn Mountain Elementary School was represented by Orsen Mike, Captain Jurczak and Finley Bisson. The students competed under the team name “The Battle Boys.”
Team “Book-a-ma-Jig” of Tongass School of Arts and Sciences included Leila McLean, Kate Pader, Ursula Whiteley and Emily Nutt.
Ketchikan Charter School students Shaylee Griffin, Cereniti Beundia and Londyn Graves battled under the team name “KCS Huskies,” a title derived from their school mascot.
Team “Fantastic Four” of Pt. Higgins Elementary School included Nate Duran, Ezra Roskam, Mason Willett and Peter Hoefer.
Houghtaling Elementary School's Evelyn Robbins, MJ Balitao, Ava Garrison and Alyssa Hert competed as “The Houghtaling Dolphins.”
The 15 battlers took their seats and listened carefully as the host of the competition, Fawn Mountain Librarian Beth Brandt-Erichsen, explained the rules.
“These teams are made up of three members,” Brandt-Erichsen explained. “There's a writer, a spokesperson and a tie-breaker/speaker.”
The writer of a team was tasked with jotting down the answer to Brandt-Erichsen's questions. To receive points, the answer must contain a key word from the book's title, as well as the author's last name.
The spokesperson was charged with stepping up to the microphone and answering the question, including the full title of the book and the first and last name of the author.
Each team also had an “alternate,” or a member that could replace someone from their team during the second round.
“I'm going to read the question once. At the end of the first reading, I will read it again, but at the end of the first reading the clock will start, and then you will have 30 seconds,” Brandt-Erichsen continued.
Brandt-Erichsen also explained that competitors are required to stop writing and discussing their answers when the timer buzzed. She would then call the spokesperson from each team to their microphone. After each team had delivered their answer, she announced the answer and awarded points.
Each round lasted for eight questions.
Some questions were about characters — “In which book does a character shine a flashlight in the eyes of an intruder?” — while others were cryptic inquiries about small plot details — “In which book does a road split in two directions on the fourth day of traveling?”
After the first round, Brandt-Erichsen dismissed the battling teams for a short break. When the competitors once again climbed the steps to the stage and reclaimed their seats, she announced the scores.
At halftime, Pt. Higgins had blasted to first place with 64 points. Fawn Mountain was in second with 48 points, with TSAS closely trailing at 40 points. Houghtaling stood in fourth place with 24 points, and Ketchikan Charter had 16 points.
The questions resumed once again, until the second round came to a close.
Brandt-Erichsen stopped the clock and revealed which team had won — or in fact, which two teams had tied for first place.
Fawn Mountain's final score of 80 points put the team in third place, Houghtaling scored 56 points, Ketchikan Charter School ended the competition with 48 points, and TSAS and Pt. Higgins tied with just over 100 points.
“It's going to be a sudden death tie-breaker round,” announced Brandt-Erichsen over the surprised roar of the audience. “The tie-breaker rules are the same as what you have been following … except the time to answer the questions will be shortened to 15 seconds, rather than 30.”
The audience fell silent as Brandt-Erichsen read the first tie-breaking question aloud.
“In which book do people gather in the square rather than go to work?”
Fifteen seconds passed by slowly as the Fantastic Four and team “Book-a-ma-Jig” deliberated.
The timer buzzed after a tense 15 seconds, and each team's writers capped their markers, waiting eagerly for their chance to answer.
Both teams confidently reported that the question related to the book “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground” by Rita Williams-Garcia.
Both teams were adjudged incorrect — Brandt-Erichsen revealed the answer to be “Rump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Rumpelstiltskin” by Liesl Shurtliff.
“Would either of you like to challenge?” Brandt-Erichsen asked the teams.
Both schools energetically accepted the opportunity, and were given two minutes to find passages in “Clayton Byrd Goes Underground” that proved why their answer was correct.
After two minutes and lengthy conversations with the judges, Pt. Higgins was declared the winner. This challenge in the sudden death round was the only challenge to be upheld throughout the entire competition.
After their win at the district competition last week, the “Fantastic Four” will continue through the Battle of the Books program.
Next, they will participate telephonically in the state-level competition on Feb. 28.