Battle of the Books team repeats as middle school champs

Aside from competition, annual event encourages diversity in reading

A dozen books, hundreds of pages and months of reading all led to Thursday afternoon for a group of Juneau middle school students.


The annual Battle of the Books District Championship took place Thursday at the Floyd Dryden Middle School library. A large banner that read “Readers Are Leaders” hung on the wall behind the scorekeepers as five teams from around the district competed against each other.

The Montessori Borealis team of eighth graders Clara Don, Annika Schwartz Jinyue Trousil — otherwise known as the Strawberry Fires — entered the afternoon as the defending middle school champion. After 45 minutes of wide-ranging and challenging questions about plot points in the books, they were again crowned champions. They will represent Juneau in the state competition Feb. 27.

For the most part, they enjoyed the books they’ve been reading during the past six months.

“There were some that we didn’t really enjoy reading that much,” Schwartz said as she and her teammates smirked, “but the others were really good.”

In August, the teams were assigned 12 diverse books, and the teams all used different strategies to prepare for the competitions. Team Book Wizards from Floyd Dryden, for example, had each of their three members specialize in four books. They all read all the books, but the three of them — sixth graders Sydney Bennett, Sophia Owen and Lauren Stichert — then chose four of the books to study in depth, Sophia’s mom Angelo Owen said.

The victorious Montessori teammates didn’t divide them up, but chose instead to just have all three of them read as much as possible. Don said she read all 12 books at least three times (two of them she read four times).

The books range from Marjorie Agosin’s historical fiction novel “I Lived on Butterfly Hill” to Mike Lupica’s basketball book “Fast Break” to Anthony Horowitz’s spy book “Stormbreaker,” among others.

Luke Fortier, the librarian at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, said he’s been impressed at how the students handle reading these books and doing their schoolwork. He said he met with the Dzantik’i Heeni teams once a week or once every two weeks to go over the books, starting in October.

Sheila Degener, the librarian at Floyd Dryden and the moderator of the competition, said she and other librarians from around the state select the books at an annual librarian conference. Over the years, she’s seen the competition have positive effects on the students who participate.

“It encourages reading and it encourages attention to detail,” Degener said. “It also encourages kids to read books they normally wouldn’t read. There’s always a surprise every year. Someone will say, ‘I would have never read this book, but I’m really glad I did.’”

Thursday’s competition was quiet but tense. Degener asked the questions, such as, “In which book is a character tied to a radiator overnight?” (Answer: Stormbreaker.) Teams would have 30 seconds to discuss and write down their answers. Sometimes the answers would come quickly, but other questions proved more difficult. A hush would fall over the library as teammates leaned in close and had whispered discussions.

The Montessori team ended up winning by just one question over two teams tied for second. The Strawberry Fires were happy afterward, but turned serious as they talked about wanting to perform well in the state competition.

At the table next to them, a girl on an opposing team wasn’t too crushed by defeat. Now, she said, she and her teammates could move on and read other books in their spare time.

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


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