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The City Journals

Rachel & Friends conquer Dragons in friendly book battle

May 17, 2018 01:37PM ● By Julie Slama

Eastmont teams Rachel & Friends and Magical Mages battled two teams from Mt. Jordan in the final rounds of the inaugural Canyons School District’s Battle of the Books.

By Julie Slama|[email protected]

Eastmont Middle School seventh-grader Avery Williams loves to read so when the opportunity came for her to compete with her America’s Battle of the Books team, she was excited.

“It sounded like fun,” she said. “I liked reading the books and hanging out with my friends on the team.” 

While Eastmont has offered a school-wide Battle of the Books competition the past three years, April 13 was the first time it has been offered as a competition between all of Canyons School District’s middle schools. 

“It was fun competing to win against other schools and more fun, winning first place,” said Avery, who was a member of the team, Rachel & Friends, named after her eighth-grade friend, Rachel Jefferson. 

Rachel, who said that the team name came during lunch last year, added, “It was really cool (that the team was named after her) and it makes winning more worth it because my name was on it.”

Battle of the Books is a reading incentive program for students who have created teams to read books and come together to demonstrate their abilities and to test their knowledge of the books they have read.

Canyons School District Library Media Specialist Jim Wilson said that they started talking about bringing the program district-wide about one year ago.

“There was enough positive talk and contributions from the schools that have held their own competitions, that we felt this would benefit our students district-wide,” he said. “There are some elementary schools that also hold their own contest, so this would lead them up to this competition.” 

Wilson said about the 500 middle school students prepared for the competition by reading from a set book list.

“There is so much emphasis in academic reading that it has taken the joy out of reading, so this is an exciting way to see students be able to dig into a story they may not have chosen otherwise and understand it,” he said. 

Much of the coordination was put in the hands of Eastmont’s teacher and librarian Sonya

Miles, who has overseen her own school’s competition and is a supporter of the program. She wrote and received a $357 Donors Choose grant to help get the program started.

“I really believe this helps students read more books and the exposure to more books, improves their reading strategies and their education,” she said.

Miles and other district librarians met to review the book list and changed a few to allow for more genres to be read, which resulted in librarians creating their own questions. The questions, posed to the students in a Family Feud game-style, asked students to answer the question with the title of the book before receiving additional points with the author’s name. 

Miles said Battle of the Books is more than just the competition.

“One of my favorite things is to see the students check out books that they never would normally read and to see them really enjoy them. With greater exposure to literature, they’re expanding their selection of reading,” she said. 

Magical Mages eighth-grader Britton Bettinson said he had learned that. 

“A book doesn’t have to be hardcore fantasy for me to like it,” he said. 

Rachel & Friends eighth-grader Lauren Rodgers said that, “There were a couple books that I thought would be boring that I ended up liking.”

At Eastmont, students have the support of faculty, some who even participated on their own teams, and participate as part of their English honors classes. The school had 300 students participate on 62 student teams, which had to compete for two entries into the district-wide Battle of the Books. The Magical Mages won the school competition and their second-place team, Rachel & Friends, advanced to the district.

At district, the two teams met up with Mt. Jordan’s teams, who has had the program for six years at their school, as well as teams from Albion, Butler, Indian Hills and Union. Midvale Middle, the host school, and Draper Park had scheduling conflicts with their teams so they were unable to participate in the inaugural district competition.

“Battle of the Books goes along with intramurals, chess and debate as a way for our students to showcase their talents,” said Mt. Jordan librarian and coach, Kim Mitchell, who held a school competition between the nine school teams before the district-wide tournament. “It’s also a lot of fun for the students.”

Besides creative names, students made signs or wore matching clothes. Mt. Jordan’s Dragons came with silkscreened shirts and the school’s Kick’n Chickens brought their own (stuffed) mascot.

While most teams divided the 20 books on the list into a sizeable number to read, Mitchell said some of her team members read every book. 

“They thought it was more likely that they could answer the questions if more than one team member had read the book,” she said.

Every team competed in the first three rounds, then, the field narrowed between the two veteran schools. Before the final round, there was a sudden death tie-breaker between Rachel & Friends and Kick’n Chickens. 

“It was very close and intense. These students seem to thrive on it,” Mitchell said. 

When Rachel & Friends edged out Kick’n Chickens, they met the Chickens’ classmates, the Dragons, in the final round. 

Alice Peck, who, along with Mike Sirois are Canyons District’s school performance directors and the Grand Battle judges, was impressed with the students. 

“I saw how much work and energy these students put into knowing their books,” she said. “There was a lot of collaboration and camaraderie on the teams.” 

In the end, Eastmont’s Rachel & Friends (in addition to Rachel, Avery and Lauren, seventh-graders Ava Judd and Serena Jefferson completed their team) pulled ahead, with Mt. Jordan’s Dragons (seventh-grader Holly Evans and sixth-graders Taylor Gould, Mackenzie McKay, Chiara Telford and Sierra Watson) finishing in second place.

Mt. Jordan’s Kick’n Chickens (seventh-graders Sydney Archer, Destiny Howard, Elena Nielsen and Sabrina Smith) placed in third ahead of Eastmont’s Magical Mages (Britton and his eighth-grade peers Drake Glauser, Matt Merkley, Cort Lawlor and Blake Lawlor).

Students received books as prizes. Rachel & Friends received Grimm Fairy Tales; the Dragons got Chronicles of Narnia and Kick’n Chickens, “The Book Thief.”

For Eastmont’s school champions, Magical Mages, their season isn’t quite over. They will challenge their faculty in an end-of-the-year battle. 

“Already, the students are wanting to know the books for next year’s battle,” Mile said.