They register in November.
They get their reading lists, and hit the books.
Twenty tomes, a variety of genres, and details, details, details.
In early March, they gather — teams of up to eight fourth- through sixth-graders from the Washington County area — for a written round of competition.
And two weeks later, it's finals time, a fact-based question showdown.
The Battle of the Books program is a 24-year tradition of the Washington County Free Library. Nine teams duked it out intellectually in this year's final round Saturday at Eastern Elementary School in Hagerstown.
While only eight teams usually compete in the finals, this year judges declared a tie in the preliminaries and offered a place to both teams.
That was not all that was unique to the 2011 tournament. For the first time in the program's history, organizers added a creative component. Teams submitted projects such as posters, videos, or board games on or before Feb. 12.
Children's Librarian Jeff Ridgeway said the new element was added as a fun way to enhance the teams' understanding of the books they read.
"Up until now, the competition had been fact-based questions, and I don't think that's bad," Ridgeway said. "But some kids have a more creative style of thinking, and we thought adding this would give them an opportunity to exercise that, and expand our horizons."
Projects were graded on a rubric and compiled with written competition scores to determine which teams would compete in the final round.
Participants were geared up for competition Saturday. Clad in brightly colored T-shirts bearing team names like Fountaindale Book Miners and Book Brainiacs, the readers sat in circles of chairs facing team members. They listened intently as Ridgeway read questions and quietly "Ooh, ooh, oohed," as they conjured answers.
Finally, one reader would scrawl an answer with black marker on a large writing pad.
Savannah Helmstetter of Hedgesville, W.Va., was a reader with the first-place winning team, the Homeschool Hurricanes.
Before the competition, Savannah said she wasn't the bookish type.
"I was scared I wasn't a good reader," she said.
The spirited competition helped change that. She said to prepare, each of her team's members read five books and studied them to become "experts." Then each member proceeded to read each of the 20 books.
"We quizzed a lot," she said.
Ryan Goodmansen, 10, of Hagerstown, competed with The B.O.B.s of Pangborn, who took second place. Goodmansen said the competition encouraged him to get into books he probably wouldn't have otherwise read.
He said his favorite was "The Mysterious Benedict Society," while "How to Steal a Dog" was "a tricky read."
"But all the books were really good," he said.
Emma K. Doub Razor Readers took the third place prize.