Thousands of pages read for Battle of the Books

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Thousands of pages read for Battle of the Books
Students participating in Battle of the Books

March is that special time each year when in classrooms, on school buses, and in homes throughout Olympia, children’s noses are buried deep into books. Students in elementary and middle schools prepare vigorously for the annual Battle of the Books event by reading up to 10 books and memorizing important details in order to participate in a gameshow-style trivia competition. Since 2018, the Olympia Education Foundation's Teaching & Learning Grants have supported the purchase of books for the competition for all secondary schools and some elementary schools.


It all began in middle schools

Participation in Battle of the Books began with Reeves Middle School around the year 2000. Teacher-librarian Christie Budsby enjoyed it so much that she called Washington Middle School's teacher-librarian Mary Mathis to join them in a cross-district books battle the following year. She thought it would be fun if students from the two schools had a chance to interact before becoming classmates at Olympia High School. So, the next year, each of these two schools participated in Battle of the Books and pitted their winning teams against each other. The winning school gets the honor of having their name engraved on a trophy that remains on site until a new school takes the top spot. The next year, the Washington team traveled to Reeves for the competition, and they have been alternating their location each year. Soon, Thurgood Marshall and Jefferson middle schools joined in the fun, and the tradition has continued ever since. Even neighboring Griffin Middle School has participated for a few years. Thurgood Marshall Middle School has retained the championship title the past two years.


High schools find a small following

Somewhere around 2012, a senior decided to put together a high school level Battle of the Books for a culminating project. Students did all the work to contact other schools and organize the questions. The number of participants is smaller in high school; however, it’s a loyal crowd and there has been a battle every year since.


More elementary schools form battles each year

More and more elementary schools throughout the district adopt their own Battles of the Books each year. Students in each classroom compete to determine a classroom team, then the grade levels compete to choose the top team in each grade level.


Centennial Elementary has had a Battle of the Books for as long as teacher-librarian Heather Slater can remember. She appreciates seeing students grow excited about books from diverse genres. “It's just fun to see students pick books they wouldn't normally choose on their own and then end up loving it,” Slater said. “I also enjoy watching teams grow and work together and the rich conversations that come from reading the same books.”


At Roosevelt Elementary, the annual battle began about five years ago. “Most kids are very excited about it, and the anticipation grows as the competition goes on,” said Roosevelt teacher-librarian Jean Schuna. In non-Covid years, all of the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes, as well as parents, come to the final battle held in the gym. This year we will battle in the library without an audience, but possibly live-stream it into classrooms.”


At Pioneer Elementary, students read about 15 books before participating in the battle. The grand finale occurs during spring conference week. “We have read books which have taken us all over the globe,” said teacher-librarian Annette McQueen. “This is a beloved annual event. We plan to continue the tradition and ‘Battle on!’”


At ORLA Montessori, students in grades three, four and five have participated in Battle of the Books each spring for the past several years. Students read 10 books from a selection of 18. 


At McLane Elementary, fourth and fifth graders battle from December to March each year. McLane Elementary teacher librarian Joan Moore told us she began her battle after hearing about it from a colleague at McKenny. As the word spreads, more and more students are finding themselves involved. And whether it’s the spirit of competition or the draw of a good story, it doesn’t matter so much as it does that the kids are reading.