Young readers match wits with other schools

Margaret Hurt
Special to The Black Mountain News

This summer, 11-year-old Olivia Lang, a Black Mountain Elementary fifth-grader, has it high on her activity wish list to visit the local library regularly.

Olivia is eager to check out books written by some of the authors on her Elementary Battle of the Books list. Being part of the reading program at her school this year has inspired her to want to understand more challenging words and to read more for pleasure.

“Now I want to read all the time,” she said, having completed the list of 18 books on the program’s list this school year.

Over the hot summer months last year, 11 fourth- and fifth-graders at Black Mountain Elementary were busy reading. By the start of the school year, each had read five selected grade-level books. In the months that followed, they read 13 more as part of their commitment to prepare for the North Carolina Elementary Battle of the Books competition. Their summer reading was well spent - the elementary school team recently won the Buncombe County competition. On April 22, it advances to the western regional competition for another day of team quiz-style competition. It will compete against winning teams from schools in Transylvania, Haywood, Henderson and Cherokee counties.

The last round of the county competition at the Buncombe County Schools administrative offices in Asheville included 20 teams from various schools. During the 12 rounds of questions about the books they had read, teams earned points for correct book titles, authors and aspects of the plots. Questions were challenging, requiring students to have a good understanding of the stories and to be able to keep them straight, said Teresa Spring, media specialist at Black Mountain Elementary and the team’s staff sponsor.

Olivia, like other team members, enjoyed being part of a small team, one in which special friendships formed. Members bonded over laughter and reading the same books. The team met regularly throughout the year to progress through the books and to practice sample competition-style questions.

Spring believes the opportunity - the first time the school has participated - has been great for the students.

“It has helped them not just read the words to finish the book, but to pay better attention to the many aspects happening in the story and take their literary understanding to a deeper level,” she said. “There is so much to a book and why the author has the story unfold a certain way.” Students are learning to dissect, critique and judge the books they are reading, she said.

The program is a fun challenge for Olivia, her mom, Janine Lang, said. Discussions among the group help bring the characters and plot to life, she said. “I love hearing Olivia talk about her favorite characters as if they are her best friends,” she said.

The book list includes a mix of genres, reading levels, subjects and older and newer literature. School media specialists from across North Carolina suggested titles for the final list. Aimed at keeping the interest of young readers, many are not books familiar to adults, Spring said.