A War of Words is Raging

Bend-La Pine School District’s Oregon Battle of the Books

By Annette Benedetti

There’s a battle raging in schools all around Oregon, and it’s one that parents and children are likely to support. Oregon Battle of the Books debuts at the beginning of each school year when students are given the opportunity to begin their training, arming themselves with carefully chosen books. On March 11, all of their hard work and reading will pay off as the regional battle begins at Sisters Middle School where teams will fight for the opportunity to compete at the state tournament.

According to the Oregon Battle of the Books Handbook, the original idea for this unique reading incentive program came from a radio program sponsored by the Chicago Public Library in the 1940’s, which featured competing teams of students from different Chicago schools each week. In 1960, the concept was revived by one of the contestants from the show who had grown up to be a school librarian in Illinois.  It was eventually brought to Oregon in the 1970’s by librarian and author, Sybilla Cook. As word of the program spread, it began to be implemented in schools throughout the state, though not as a mandated program.

The handbook states that, “in 2006, with the encouragement of State Librarian, Jim Scheppke, Oregon Association of School Libraries (OASL) President Allen Kopf formed a committee to submit a grant to the Oregon State Library for a statewide Battle of the Books program. Upon receipt of the first Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) grant, the committee moved forward with the statewide plan to be implemented in the 2007-2008 school year… and the Oregon Battle of the Books was born.”

Educational consultant and volunteer, Greg Heacock explains, “Oregon, [has] state-wide contests with most school sites around the state having playoffs beginning in late January and continuing through February, followed by seven regional contests—ours takes place in Sisters on March 11th—and a state contest takes place in Salem April 8th.”

Participating schools form teams with students in grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12. However, team members do not have to be all in the same grade. Once a team is formed, which can happen in a number of ways, including designation by the school librarian or friends pulling a team together, a team name is chosen. Competitors are then given the reading list that can be found online at the Deschutes Public Library website.  Each team is asked to read a set of books.  Later, their knowledge and comprehension will be tested which will determine whether or not
they continue on to compete in regionals.

The testing or initial “playoff” process includes answering in-depth questions about each book
and its author in an effort to show a deep level of reading comprehension. Before regionals,
teams that are moving on come together with parent volunteers, librarians, and teachers to
practice and prepare.

Some of the books chosen for this year’s battle include: Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Matilda,
The Unwanteds,
and The Martian. The list of books is lengthy, and both the school library and the local libraries do their best to make sure they are always in stock. Public Services Manager for the Deschutes County Library, Heather McNeil says, “The way we support [the program] is that we carry multiple copies of all of the titles. We have fifteen or more copies of each title that students are required to read, and if the requests exceed what we have, we will purchase more.”

Students interested in participating in the 2017/2018 battle should connect with a teacher or librarian at their school. McNeil says, “It’s just really exciting to see kids so motivated and excited about reading a whole bunch of books and proving their expertise. They love talking about the ones they liked and the ones they didn’t. It’s just wonderful to see opportunities to get kids talking about books.”

For a list of the required reading, visit the web page at deschuteslibrary.org/kid/ and check out the Books & Reading section. The regional battle will take place on March 11, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Sisters Middle School. Winning teams will go on to compete at the Oregon Battle of the Books State Tournament, which will be held at Chemeketa Community College
Campus in Salem on April 8.

Oregon Battle of the Books

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