Fourth-graders from Tumwater Hill win test of literary knowledge

Battle of the Books: Don't have to be a 'Nerd,' but it helps

March 21, 2011 

TUMWATER - The stakes were high during Tumwater School District's fourth annual Battle of the Books.

In addition to school pride and bragging rights, teams were competing for a traveling trophy that had been at Black Lake Elementary School for two years in a row.

“I know somebody else would like to have it,” teased Black Lake librarian Nancy Price. “And we would like to keep it.”

About 50 parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and principals filled Black Lake Elementary School’s library last Tuesday to root for their favorite Battle of the Books team.

The game is similar to Family Feud, where teams confer and try to agree on an answer to a trivia question about a book within 30 seconds. Three Tumwater elementary schools sent their top teams to compete at the district level.

“Got Books,” hailing from Black Lake, was a four-person team of sixth-graders who had already beat a dozen other teams at their school. They wore matching T-shirts, had years of battle experience under their belts and clearly enjoyed a home-field advantage.

“The Eagles” from Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School was a four-person team made up of fifth- and sixth-grade girls. It was their school’s first year in the competition, but their school spirit gleamed as they posed for photographs with their school’s mascot and principal before the game.

And then there were “The Nerds,” a three-person fourth-grade team from Tumwater Hill Elementary. They were the youngest, the shortest and possibly the weakest, especially since one of their teammates had recently gotten over the flu.

Even though they had beaten 16 other teams at their school – occasionally with half the number of players – The Nerds seemed to lack the self-confidence of a championship team.

Fourth-grader Collin Jacobs, 10, said he and his teammates were going into the district competition accepting they’d probably take second place, maybe even third.

“They have more experience,” Collin said of the other teams. “And this is our first year.”

But it turns out age, size and experience don’t matter in the trivia game based on youth literature. The Nerds lived up to their name and proved that reading a lot, taking copious notes and studying as much as possible pays off.

The game included 25 questions involving quotes, trivia about the authors and passages from 15 books designed for readers in grades 4-6.

Across the country, many schools and districts compete in Battle of the Books programs. In Tumwater, the books and game questions are selected and developed by librarians in the district, Price said.

Also, since about 10 of the titles featured dogs as important characters, Price said all of those canine questions were meant to be tricky.

The hardest part of the game was agreeing on the same answer with teammates, said Aidan McBride, 12, of team Got Books.

By halftime, The Nerds were leading at 10, Got Books had 9 and the Eagles trailed with 6.

The Nerds and Got Books stayed close during most of the final half. The final score 23 Nerds, 19 Got Books and 11 Eagles.

The Nerds were shocked. Their parents were proud.

“I think I was more nervous than he was,” said Collin’s mom, Amanda Jacobs.

And the fifth- and sixth-graders who were beat by fourth-graders? They were a little flabbergasted but proud that they had made it to the district finals.

Price congratulated all of the kids for doing their best. Even before the game began, she reminded them they were already winners.

Price said she’s happy to see Battle of the Books is growing in popularity. It’s a program that gets kids to voluntarily read on their own time.

“It’s so nice to see kids doing something about and being rewarded for reading,” she said. “For some kids, that’s the place they’ll shine.”

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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