MOUNT VERNON - The books have been read, the buzzers are ready, and the teams are in place for the return of the newly revived “Battle of the Books” community team competition on Tuesday, March 22, 6:00 p.m., at the Mount Vernon Memorial Theater, 112 E. High Street.
Battle of the Books was originally started and sponsored by the Mount Vernon City School System and St. Vincent de Paul School in 1993 as a friendly competition between teams of fifth graders who love to read. In its heyday before it was cut due to school budget constraints in 2012, the program flourished as parents, teams and supporters filled auditoriums for the popular competition and cheered on their favorite teams and contenders in good-natured competition.
Program leaders Marilyn Chidester, Mount Vernon City Schools retiree, and Sharon Tharp, St. Vincent de Paul, wanted to revive Battle of the Books with a goal of opening the program to all fifth graders from schools throughout the Knox County area and homeschoolers. The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, like many other public libraries across the country, agreed to serve as annual sponsor for the Battle of the Books program with the support of area businesses and organizations including the Friends of the Library.
At this first competition, teams from Centerburg, Danville, Columbia Elementary¸ St. Vincent and East Elementary will face off with each other to correctly answer questions pulled from over 80 books on the Battle of the Books reading list. Unfortunately Fredericktown had students interested but did not have a coach, and a few teams from other elementary schools had to pull out late, but Chidester said she has received support from area school board members and superintendents, and hopes to see more school teams and team sponsors sign up for next year’s competition.
The reading list for Battle of the Books is compiled by librarians and includes all fiction genres—historical, classics, New York Times bestsellers—books that are well-written, possibly award winners, from a variety of authors.
“Yes, B.O.B. (Battle of the Books) is a very competitive event, but then kids often like to challenge others as well as themselves,” Chidester and Tharp explained. “It is exciting to see if you can make it ‘at the plate’ …and it helps kids to strengthen memory and think about the story…the strength of fiction is that it puts kids inside the story. ”
The duo finds that in addition to helping students learn empathy, discover ways characters overcome obstacles, look in to the future, or even understand history in a way a textbook cannot, the program encourages participants to become lifelong readers and share their excitement with their families, siblings, classmates and friends. It encourages teamwork and community team spirit. Many of the contenders from the past are now adults who read or have children who read and are excited to see the return of the program.
“I cried when I didn’t make the first team at my school, but I read and studied harder until I made it on the second team that year,” said one adult at a local restaurant who competed as a fifth grader more than a decade ago when she heard the program was being revived. She said before the program she never read many books, but after the program, and even now, she continues to be an avid reader and still takes pride in making the team.
Families and spectators are welcome to join in cheering for the teams and their coaches. The group is particularly hoping students or families of students in third and fourth grade this year will attend the competition as spectators and then encourage students to try out for a team as fifth graders in the future.
Anyone interested in learning more about the event or the Battle of the Books program can contact Debbie Baker, head of Youth Services at the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County, at 740-392-BOOK (2665), visit www.knox.net, or email Battle@knox.net.