If you are looking for a way to get your students pumped about reading, why not try a battle of the books competition? I pondered how I could cultivate enthusiasm for reading at my school when I happened across a post by Mighty Little Librarian Tiffany Whitehead, describing her school’s battle of the books competition. Her excitement got me brainstorming on how I could implement a battle at my own school. I thought about how we would go about this battle and what type of books we would use before putting a specific plan in place.
After much contemplation, I decided to use our state’s award nominees, the Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice list, for the battle. For the competition, I decided on teams of five students; each student on a team read five books from the list to qualify (they can choose which books to read). The students can either choose their own teams, or have me put them on a team with other contenders. The students compete in three rounds of competition. The first round includes a Kahoot! game where I display 30 questions and the students work together to choose the correct answer on their computers. The second round features a puzzle with title, quote, main character, author, and genre headings, and the students fill in the puzzle pieces for each book. For the final round, the students answer 30 questions on our buzzer system in a quiz-bowl style. Points are awarded for each round and the winning teams receives trophies.
To drum up excitement for the competition, I started advertising at the beginning of the school year, talking up the competition each time a class came to the library. I also posted information on the library’s website and social media channels. The very first year we launched the competition, we had 76 students qualify for the battle. In addition, we saw a huge increase in book circulation and new eagerness for reading. Many of our students stepped out of their comfort zones and read more diverse titles from a variety of genres and often more challenging than their normal reading choices.
For each of the 12 titles on the list, we had 10–12 copies of the book. I was able to purchase many of the books on sale, but with a consistent list of 720 students waiting for these books on hold, I knew I needed a funding source to help me purchase additional copies for next year’s battle. The main cost of our battle is the cost of purchasing multiple copies of each title. Around the same time I was looking for funding, librarian Hilda Weisburg posted on Twitter about AASL’s Inspire Special Event Grant, and I decided to apply. Thanks to AASL and the generosity of Marney Welmers, we now have funding to purchase plenty of copies for our students. We have also been able to fund an author visit and purchase audiobooks for our students with reading difficulties, and we are now expanding the battle across our district.
Although school has only been in session for three weeks, eight students have already qualified for the battle of the books, and even though we now have 20–25 copies of each book, none are on the shelf as they all are checked out. Author Tommy Greenwald, whose book Game Changers is on the Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice list of nominees for next year’s battle, will be visiting our school in October, and students are already discussing strategy for the battle in April.
Not only are we continuing our school-wide battle, but we also have invited the other eight middle schools/junior high schools in our district for a Livingston READgional Battle of the Books competition this year. We hope to expand the district competition to the elementary and high schools in the future. This competition will not only provide a quality program at each school’s level, but it will also bring a sense of togetherness to our middle schools and community.
We sincerely thank AASL’s Inspire Special Event Grant for helping make this dream possible.
Author: Amanda Jones
Amanda is the 2021 School Library Journal Co-Librarian of the Year, the 2020 Louisiana School Librarian of the Year and a 20 year educator from Watson, LA. She’s a teacher-librarian and reading specialist at a 5-6 grade middle school. She co-hosts the My Two Cents edtech webinar series and is the 2019 AASL Social Media Superstar Program Pioneer. Amanda is an active member of several committees for both AASL and the Louisiana Association of School Librarians. She loves connecting students with “homerun” books and loves networking with librarians from around the world. Visit her library website at lomlibrary.org and/or find out more about her at http://librarianjones.com/.