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'Battle of the Books' builds reading skills

April 06, 2007|by HARRY NOGLE

The auditorium of Eastern Elementary School was nearly silent for most of the morning March 17, as eight teams of eight students listened to 40 questions, then conferred among team members and quickly wrote their answers on a paper tablet.

This was the scene of the Battle of the Books competition, and, for the third year, a team from Boonsboro won the annual Washington County Free Library competition.

This year, the "Bizarre Book Battlers," a fourth-grade team managed by Boonsboro Elementary School teacher Suzanne Sullivan, won the competition, narrowly edging Laura Puffenbarger's "B.O.B. Blitz on Books," also from Boonsboro, and Sue Edwards' Smithsburg Elementary School "Lightening Readers."

Debbie Fiola and Janeen Solberg helped Puffenbarger manage the B.O.B. Blitz on Books team. Jordan Bingman, Greg Fiola, Hannah Himes, Valerie Mason, Tori Moss, Courtney Ridenour, Otto Solberg and Alex Thaggard were team members.

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Ellie Clark, Ryan Edwards, Jasmine Flores, Erica Hargrave and Donovan Lawrence were members of the Smithsburg Elementary team.

This was the 20th Battle of the Books competition, begun when then Washington County Free Library Children's Librarian Donna Parks and Charles Blank, director of the library, traveled to Midland, Mich., to observe a competition there.

"It was really her program," said Jeff Ridgeway, current children's librarian of the Washington County Free Library.

Ridgeway said "this is a competition that centers on reading because literacy is an extremely important issue today."

For the competition, 20 books are selected each year and distributed to competing teams when each team has registered, about Nov. 1. The competition is open to any fourth- through sixth-grader who is a resident of Washington County.

"We try to pick a mix of books," Ridgeway said.

"Early 20th-century classics are not always well-liked," he said. "But, by and large, they (the students) seem to really like the books."

"From the feedback I get, it's worth it," Ridgeway said. "We have brothers and sisters who return year after year."

A written preliminary competition occurred two weeks before the final competition. More than 20 teams from Washington County participated in the competition, which consisted of 40 content questions and 20 author identification questions.

The Bizarre Book Battlers scored 235 out of 240 possible points.

Sullivan says her team won because they "worked hard" and "got along well."

"The team members ate lunch together every day and talked strategy during lunch," she said.

Team member Emma Sikes agrees that her team was able to win because of "all the studying we did after school and during lunch time."

"Mrs. Sullivan made it fun," she said. "She set up the question and answer study sessions like a 'Jeopardy!' game."

Teammate Matthew Scalese said, "Yeah. And you got to eat snacks!"

"Oh, yeah," he added. "My favorite book was 'Sparrow Hawk Red.'"

Team members believe that parent volunteers contributed to the success of the team.

Emma and Matthew said that parents Terry Allnutt, Adriana Bushko, Debby Fiola, Jenny Scalese and Lauren Sikes and media specialist Sharon Forrest read books, created study questions and quizzed team members.

Boonsboro Elementary Principal J. Scott Woods said unlike some sports teams and games, the Battle of the Books competition is the type of competition that "brings out the best, not the worst" in team members and managers.

The success of Boonsboro teams in the last few years is due to the "experiences that the students bring to the competition" Woods said.

He believes that much of the credit for the teams' successes comes from "modeling by parents" and the skills students have before they arrive in class that has created a "community of lifelong learners."

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