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READALICIOUS! Books for Tweens

Battle of the Books: A Stampede to Read

Today was a rowdy day at St. Michael's school in Livonia, as fourth to sixth graders assembled and cheered en masse not for a sporting event, but for books! Today was the annual unveiling of the eight Battle of the Books (BOB) titles (listed below).

I LOVE this magic ooh-and-ahh moment, described in last year's Battle of the Books post, especially because it's immediately followed by a stampede to read as teams vie to absorb as many facts as they can in preparation for the February competition.

This year, after serving as a judge for a long time, there's a ME in team. On top of my Quiz Bowl and Green Team activities, I'm coaching an eager team of eight sixth graders from three classes—so eager, that they've already whipped through a couple of the short books, even before our first official team meeting. Heck, we don't even have a name yet!*

Girls and Boys, Reading Together?

My soon-to-be-named team is a 50-50 mix of boys and girls, which is exciting because the past years' winners have split sharply down gender lines (pretty common in the tween years). Five years ago, an all-girl team of excellent readers won the competition as fourth graders, and then fifth graders, and then (with everyone futilely gunning to topple them!), again as sixth graders. A three-peat! After the super girls graduated out of the arena, different all-boy teams won for two years in a row.

Who will be next? A mixed team, I hope. My mixed team!

BOB is a friendly competition, of course, designed to maximize the fun in reading, so I plan to keep practices and lunch meetings fun and light, with lots of games and laughter. I think of those lunch meetings as a book club, a social reading experience that's as important for the friendships as it is for the learning. I've created a bookmark for each team member, with their name and the eight titles on it, as a personal souvenir of their reading journey.

My only concern is that they're reading too many books too early. I know. That's a problem? But, with the competition a few months off, I'll have to make sure they don't forget the details, so I'm already in full coach mode, preparing practice drills and thinking about strategic scrimmages.

Our Eight BOB Books

Looking at this year's list, I find a few titles I haven't read in a while and it seems geared a little more to the lower grades (with one noted exception), and that's fine. More kids will read more of the books, and have fun doing so. Here's what's at the top of our to-read list for the next three months, with a few early thoughts.

    • Liar Liar, by Gary Paulsen, the author of my all-time perennial favorite tween book, Hatchet). This book and its companion, Flat Broke are shorter and lighter in subject and tone than his survival story, but Paulsen writes at a slightly higher reading level than most of the books on the list, so it's a good challenge.


    • The Hundred Dresses, by Eleanor Estes, a short, easy read about a Polish girl who has to deal with bullying in an American town.


    • The Discovery: Dive Book One, by Gordon Kormon, who is always solid and well-liked by tweens. His book Swindle is hot right now in my class. I'm hoping Dive Book One will trigger interest in his other survival books, Island and Everest.


    • Fearless, by Elvira Woodruff, is historic fiction (1703) about courage and survival in a monster storm.


    • The Westing Game , by Ellen Raskin, is a Newbery mystery story (and movie) with a twist ending. I think of it as Agatha Christie for kids, with puzzles and clues to track down 16 suspects, heirs to a fortune.


    • Toad Rage, by Morris Gleitzman, is a very funny "epic story of a slightly-squashed young cane toad's quest for the truth," and now has a sequel. Study questions.


    • Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is another Newbery winner. In a small scene, Bud meets a girl at a homeless camp and they share a kiss. That scene grew into a popular companion book, Mighty Miss Malone, with the girl as the main character. Here's a review of both books from School Library Journal, along with a few interesting posters for the stage play.


    • A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, is enduring science fiction, no doubt, but it's the one title on this list that gives me pause. Not every kid will like or will finish the book, as the reading level is high and the BOB competition is designed for broad appeal, beyond just the "good readers." On the other hand, the more recent book When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, has boosted the popularity of this classic title because the main character carries Wrinkle around with her.

      Are you in a Battle of the Books? What titles are on your list? Do you have any good study tips to share?

      *UPDATE: At our first team meeting on Friday, the sixth graders chose as their name: Hopping's Hippies! What?! I was stunned. It was the first suggestion, and everyone just went with it. (Must be the alliteration.) Tie-dye t-shirts coming up.

      **UPDATE: The grand Battle of the Books tournament was postponed due to snow. Stay tuned for the results, after the event is rescheduled.

      **UPDATE: Hoppings Hippies came in a respectable FIFTH place. We are happy and proud.


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