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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.
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Battle of the Books: Titles Unleashed!

This year's titles for the Battle of the Books competition have been announced! The parent in charge went with tried-and-true classics, which the kids are devouring in preparation for the February finale quiz event.

Book List

    • Elephant Run, Roland Smith (he offers a board game and quizzes about this World War II novel on his website)


    • Number the Stars (also set in WWII), Lois Lowry



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Let the Battle of the Books Begin!

Battle of the Books turns reading into a rowdy costume party! Meet the members of the Pillow Readers team.

One evening in February, well past Halloween and not exactly Mardi Gras, our school gymnasium looked like a costume party. Six grey-haired old men hobbled in on canes, followed closely by a bevy of beautifully adorned Greek goddesses. Some hooded grim reapers crept in next and then—what were they? Pillow people?

What whipped these kids into a costumed frenzy? I’m proud to say: books. At this highly anticipated event, the school’s fourth through sixth graders compete to answer questions about eight books in our annual Battle of the Books quiz competition—BOB for short.

Preparation for this year’s BOB begins right now, at the start of the school year. I help choose the eight book titles and we keep them under tight wraps until December. The trick is to find books that appeal to ages 9 to 12 and provide a range of reading levels. You don’t want fourth graders feeling frustrated. (I’ve provided a sample book list at the end of this post.)

Soon, our new students will form their teams of six and secure a coach (a parent or teacher). In our school, that’s 16 to 20 teams, with 96 to 120 students participating. No one is turned away, so some teams might have seven or eight members.

Each team chooses a name: The Book Bosses, Contagious Readers, Pretty Little Readers, Agent 00 Divas, the Grim Readers, to name a few recent ones. Then, kids design costumes—in some cases very elaborate—to go with their theme.

By December, teams can’t wait to report to the gym to collect their stack of eight books—an event in itself. I see fists pump and hear shouts of excitement every time kids realize they have already read a title. Sometimes, students argue over who gets to read which book first. (Be still my heart!)

When the dust settles, the real work begins. Over the next two months, teams meet at lunch, before school, and on weekends to write and answer practice questions, memorize the spelling of author names, and discuss the plots, characters, and settings of each book. By the time the competition rolls around, they know these eight books cover to cover.
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