Battle of the Books

A team of third- and fourth-graders from the Tongass School of Arts and Sciences compete in a virtual Battle of the Books competition. Photo courtesy of Sandi Blair

Each year, students from across the Ketchikan School District test their skills in a bookish battle.

The Battle of the Books program is presented through the Alaska Association of School Librarians. Each spring, AASLA releases a list of books tailored for student participants in kindergarten through 12th grade, and the students have the majority of the year to read all the books on the list.

Then, in the fall, at the beginning of the next school year, students form teams and engage in “battles” (of) involving trivia about the books with other students from competing teams in their same grade bracket.

In the Ketchikan School District, the competition involved third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, as well as middle school students.

This year’s book list for third- and fourth-grade students included “Bee the Change” by James Preller, “Bob” by Wendy Mass, “Boy Called Bat” by Elana Arnold, “Douggie: the Playful Pup who Became a Sled Dog Hero” by Pam Flowers, “Dying to Meet You” by Kate Klise, “EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken” by Sally Warner, “March of the Mini Beasts” by Ada Hopper, “Moo” by Sharon Creech, “Stargazing” by Jen Wang, “Turtle in Paradise” by Jennifer Holm, “Water Horse” by Dick King-Smith and “Wild Robot” by Peter Brown.

For the fifth- and sixth-graders, the reading list included “Amal Unbound” by Aisha Saeed, “Bud, Not Buddy” by Christopher Paul Curtis, “Dactyl Hill Squad” by Daniel Jose Older, “Enginerds” by Jerrett Lerner, “Front Desk” by Kelly Yang, “Guts” by Raina Telgemeier, “Out of my Mind” by Sharon Draper, “Parker Inheritance” by Varian Johnson, “Screaming Staircase” by Johnathon Stroud, “Skeleton Tree” by Iain Lawrence, “The Thing About Jellyfish” by Ali Benjamin and “What is the Women’s Rights Movement?” by Debroah Hopkinson.

On the middle schoolers’ reading list were “Blended” by Sharon Draper, “Class Action” by Steven Frank, “Guest: A Changeling Tale” by Mary Downing Hahn, “Hidden Oracle” by Rick Riordan, “It Wasn’t Me” by Dana Levy, “Leaving Protection” by Will Hobbs, “New Kid” by Jerry Craft, “Running Dream” by Wendelin Van Draanen, “Uglies” by Scott Westerfield and “Vine Basket” by Josanne La Valley.

Then, the battles start; first at a schoolwide level, progressing to a district level, and finally, a state level.

The schoolwide competitions took place in late January, and earlier this month, the districtwide competition was held.

Competitions are organized by grade level, with third- and fourth-graders, fifth- and sixth-graders, and middle school students competing against their own grade levels.

The winners of the district-level competition in each grade bracket will represent the Ketchikan School District at the state competition.

The winning teams this year were Fast Track’s third- and fourth-graders, Tongass School of Arts and Sciences’ fifth- and sixth-graders and Schoenbar Middle School’s seventh graders.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schoolwide battles were held in different ways to provide safety for students and participants. For many schools, this included doing battles via Zoom.

Fawn Mountain Elementary teacher Beth Brandt-Erichsen is the Ketchikan School District’s Battle of the Books coordinator. During a recent phone interview, she told the Daily News that the program provided “some normalcy in a time that’s not normal.”

“It was really fun to watch the kids … have their conversations about the books,” Brandt-Erichsen said about using Zoom. “It was like we were sitting right there with each of the teams. So, that, I felt was kind of fun. Usually, they’re far away from you, and you get a sense that they’re having intense conversations.”

Using Zoom’s “breakout rooms” feature, students also were able to speak privately with their teammates or judges.

But while the virtual nature of the battles worked well for students, audiences weren’t an option this year.

“It was sad to not have audiences,” Brandt-Erichsen said. “We really felt like parents missed being able to come watch. That was a real unfortunate thing. And there’s a lot of kids that participate in the program that love to watch the finale on the stage, and I feel like they all kind of missed out on seeing that last culminating thing.”

But Brandt-Erichsen said that the students and teachers were grateful to have the chance to participate in the annual program.

“We were able to — each of the people that are the school coaches — just scramble to really make it happen,” she said. “It’s good to have things that are normal. This is a normal thing. Battle is normal. Kids look forward to it every year to doing battle.”

The Daily News received results information from five of the six participating schools.

Schoenbar Middle School

Eleven Schoenbar students across three teams competed in the Battle of the Books earlier this month, with the seventh grade team of Braidyn Young, Lilly Pader and JoJo Robinson being named the champions who will represent the school district at the state competition.

“It was different this year,” SMS teacher and Battle of the Books coach Alex Pennino wrote in an email to the Daily News. “We generally have an extended learning elective class dedicated to Battle of the Books, but due to the new COVID regime that was undoable.”

Pennino continued, “The kids had to study on their own with less direction; it was even difficult to scrounge together enough books for everybody. Despite all the obstacles, all the teams did awesome in a pretty competitive school battle that was close up to the final rounds.”

In the district competition, the Fast Track team missed two out of the 16 questions, while the Schoenbar team only missed one, which earned the SMS team a spot to represent Ketchikan’s middle schoolers at the district tournament.

Tongass School of Arts

and Sciences

At TSAS, 16 students participated in the third- and fourth-grade Battle of the Books program, and seven participated in the fifth- and sixth-grade program.

“Our schoolwide battles had to be held a little differently this year,” wrote TSAS librarian Sandi Blair to the Daily News. “For (third and fourth grades) we had all five teams spread about the library and a computer facing them to capture it all on a private Zoom for their parents to watch. It was a bit of learning as we went but I think that the parents appreciated being able to see their readers in competition.”

The fifth/sixth grade “Dactyl Hill Readers” team (Ursula Whiteley, Zeren Sebcioglu and Emma Landwehr) will represent Ketchikan’s fifth- and sixth-graders at the state competition.

The winning third- and fourth-grade team was “The Rolling Cactus” team, composed of Leila McLean, Emily Nutt and Kinsey Urquhart.

Fast Track

Five Fast Track third- and fourth-grade students — Christopher Bremer, Evan Roskam, Tatum Burns, Cache Henke and Huxley Henke — competed in the districtwide Battle of the Books.

According to a recent email to the Daily News from Fast Track Homeschool Coordinator Lori Ortiz, “Cache and Huxley also won the district battle and will continue on to the state level.”

The fifth- and sixth-grade team of Ezra Roskam, Britta Brinkerhoff, Lina Merrill and Nina Varnell competed at the district level, along with the middle school team of Eve Roskam and Ian Merrill.

“Fast Track Battle of Books teams were not interrupted by COVID-19,” wrote Fast Track Homeschool Coordinator Lori Ortiz in a recent email to the Daily News. “Homeschool teams formed among small groups of families who spent time in their own bubbles. They were glad to have this extra special activity continue despite the complications of the pandmeic.”

Fawn Mountain Elementary

At Fawn Mountain, “it was a close battle and all the teams performed well,” according to information from school principal Nick Higson.

While Fawn Mountain students will not advance to the state competition, four teams of third/fourth grade students and seven teams of fifth/sixth grade students participated.

The third graders of team “Space Otters,” which included Rome Stewart, Violet House, Georgia Colbert and Holly Jayne Patotzka, beat the “Wavy Ts” team of Connor Temple, Landon Wooton, and Gus Winder by three points.

The team of “The Mindreading Wolves” (Bella Weber, Kyra Hedlindm and Hunter Hall)  came in third place at Fawn Mountain.

The fifth graders of “The Dream Team”  (Colton Kufner, Finley Bisson, Sarah Reynolds and Clyde Lamon) came in first place.

“The Rainbow Readers” team (Emma House, Peyton Nickich, Kalyn Jurczak) took second place.

“The Precise Penguins” (Ava Arntzen, Nikomi Tucker and Zoe Poole) came in third place.

Point Higgins Elementary

Two Pt. Higgins teams (third- and fourth-graders) competed in the district-wide competition.

The team of Jack Ross, Faith Pendergrass and Lily Richards placed second. The team of Ryan Elerding, Sabrina Hillberry, Bailey Slanaker and Chloe Anderson came in first place.

Houghtaling Elementary School did not respond to requests for information by press time.