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Thursday, February 25, 2016

Battle of the Books

By Zoya Saltonstall

Thursday February 25th, 2016
Kodiak, Alaska

8:30 AM
"Good Luck Battle of the Books Team!" The St. Mary's school mates cheer in unison off the porch. I'm picking up four  students from the St. Mary's 3rd/4th grade class to go compete in their  first ever Battle of the Books.  The morning school assembly cheers the students on as competitors  climb into my car.

8:45 The  St. Mary's 3rd/4th grade battle  team arrives to the Kodiak College library conference room. For months they have been meeting, reading, studying, quizzing on a list of 13 books which they'll be questioned on.  This experience is all new to them. St. Mary's hasn't had a battle of the books team for many years. 

The room is set up with conference table, with  speaker phone in the center  grown-up chairs surrounding it. The students try out the padded, wheeled chairs with big smiles on their faces. 

Freshly homemade Blubbery buckle, little cutie oranges and bottles of water sit in the corner table. The students grab books and do last minute flipping through to get final details into their minds. The room is quiet. My digestive system gurgles and I have no appetite.  

8:53 Its audio conference time. We are supposed to do a  practice call in to make sure the line works. The kids watch on nervously  as I attempt to dial in. 
First 9, then the number. Wrong. Abnoxious beeping tone. Try again. 

Still wrong. Deep breaths, I tell myself, trying not to panic.  I try to deny the fact that 4 months of preparations could be lost in a failed dial into the audio conference. Our library support and fellow battle mom,  Sara, arrives and  tells us that prefix  8 will get us out of the phone system.  It works. We're in! 

Amen! The kids looked relieved. I can breath again. 

8:55 AM Official Dial in time for Battle of Books! We hear the voices of adult leaders and kids from all over the state across the speaker phone. Team names are being introduced.  The Amazing Lynx, The fuzzy Lumpkins (I'm still not sure what a lumpkin is), the Superreaders and  our team-The St. Mary's Bears are all ready to go. All off in our various corners of the state, we're coming together to see which team knows these books inside and out. 

9:05 AM After several minutes of rules, the battle begins. The First question is read by the moderator. Mute is activated on our phone so other teams can't hear our discussion. The teams have  30 seconds to discuss the answer and write the question down on their paper. Every battle of the books question starts with "In Which book…." and the team mates scroll through their mental list of books to decide which best answers the question. 

9:30 AM The Kenai team challenges a question. A judge is called in on the conference to determine whether the challenge is granted.  The case is presented and the battle judge grants the points. We all see first hand that battle challenges can indeed be won!

A serving of moist blueberry buckle warms spirits and eases nerves. 

9:50 AM Half time and stretch break. We are slightly behind the leading team- Kenai. There are lots of high fives and excitement at the questions the team got right and the possibility of sliding ahead of  Kenai in the last rounds. 

10:20 AM Its ten questions later and tensions are high. After many missed points, we have fallen out of the top ranking. Only 1 team will be progressing onto the next round-and it won't be us.  Just one question at a time, my co-leader Aileen reminds the team. Looks of despair come over their faces and I'm impressed with how Aileen's encouraging words bring back their smiles. 

10:50 AM "What is the moral of battle of the books?" a student teammate asks. I understand his frustration, the time invested. Its not a question the parents can answer for them, but rather one they have to answer for themselves.  

Perhaps the answer comes in the form of experiences such as time together after school for many months, reading new books and now-  sharing pizza together afterwords at the large conference table.  The kids  gobble away then go outside for a few minutes before heading back to St. Mary's. 

11:30 AM On the drive back to school, the kids ask me when the books for next year will be announced. I look in my rear view mirror and they are 100% smiles in the back seat. 

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a physical therapist and mother of two. She loves warm cookies out of the oven. 

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