I love Battle of the Books.
Some people criticize this competition as just a memorization exercise. Some say children just guess and don’t read the books. No program is perfect, but I think there is fantastic value in Battle of the Books for school libraries for public relations purposes. But even more importantly, there is fantastic value in Battle of the Books for children.
1) Children BOND with books. They absolutely LOVE some of the titles that they read. The evidence for this is when their eyes shine and they do a happy dance in their seat when a question comes from a title that they love and know so well. They are thrilled to share their knowledge of this wonderful book.
2) TEAM spirit. There is the excitement of competing, yes, but there is also the camaraderie of the team as they use each other’s strengths to succeed. Some team members may literally lie across the table to reach the other team members and decide on their answer together. They need and use the team huddle.
3) CONFERRING with your team and ARGUING your case in few words. Sometimes force of personality wins out but it is also the team member’s history of success. If the member really knows that book because it was their favorite, the other team members will recognize this and defer. They acknowledge someone who has the knowledge but they also learn when to press their case.
4) PROBLEM-SOLVING skills. Students learn to look for clues in the questions, eliminating answer choices until there is one best possibility. Students base their choice on an analysis of the book’s plot, characters, setting, and theme – all those story elements we educators are trying to get them to notice and comprehend. Good questions demand not only recall of events but analysis of the clues to determine in which book it occurred.
5) Dealing with TIME CONSTRAINTS – a real-world situation. Answers must be provided within the time span of seconds and the team must work together in that time.
6) PRACTICALITY. Understanding the fact that if you do not TRY to answer the question your team has no chance, and that a reasonable guess might be correct.
7) GOOD BOOKS! Students read quality literature chosen by librarians and they talk about and remember those books for years. Some titles are out of their comfort zones, broaden their experience, and give them new perspectives on the world. They provide those wonderful windows into other ways of life that we talk about so often.
When I go to the grocery store or the fast food restaurant and see a teenager I know from one of my past teams, they often ask me if we are still doing Battle of the Books. And they always mention a particular title they read.
Photos courtesy of Tammy Gruer, Guilford County Schools, North Carolina.
Author: Karen Perry
Former school library media specialist. Reviewer. Online instructor for Old Dominion University and University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the school library program.