Elementary school students showcase their love of reading in Battle of the Books

The students from five Newport-Mesa Unified School District (NMUSD) schools – Eastbluff, Andersen, Newport, Newport Coast and Sonora elementary schools – along with Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic School came together for the Eighth Annual Battle of the Books competition on March 21 at OASIS Senior Center.

Behind the scenes, the actual Battle of the Books competition preparation began in September, when students were introduced to this year’s book list, a mix of popular and classic literature. They were required to attend regular club meetings to turn in worksheets in which they wrote questions that could be asked about the books and discuss what they learned. Sixth graders who competed in their fourth- and/or fifth-grade year were invited to participate as peer coaches, checking other students’ work, compiling questions from the reading logs and serving as timekeepers for practice sessions.

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Photos courtesy of NMUSD

A member of the Andersen Elementary team at the microphone

A high point came in late January when author Gorman Korman appeared via Zoom to discuss Masterminds with the Battle of the Books participants from the six schools.

“It was amazing for the kids! They were just thrilled to meet the author and ask questions about how he writes his books or whether he liked to read when he was their age. He wrote his first book when he was 12,” said Eastbluff Teacher Kathi Krolopp.

“My favorite Battle of the Books book was Masterminds because it was full of adventure and mystery. It was full of surprises. And I liked how I could see what each character thought,” said Jesse Tabakin, a fifth grade student at Newport Coast.

Andersen fifth-grade student Enan Diep enjoyed The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. “All of the characters played an important part. The plot was interesting, and everything fit well together. I already asked the public library to get the sequel for me,” Diep said.

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The thrill of the competition is evident on the faces of these three Eastbluff students

The Battle of the Books competition within NMUSD was started by Eastbluff Librarian Barbara Yaffa in 2015 based on America’s Battle of the Books, a national reading incentive program in which students read a set list of books curated by educators and librarians. The program is designed for up to six schools to compete using a series of supplied questions that test students on their knowledge and comprehension of the books in their grade level.

NMUSD’s program is run as an extracurricular book club, with a staff advisor, such as Eastbluff’s Krolopp, and parent volunteers like Lindsey Coombe. Students join the club with the knowledge they may not be selected for the competition; in fact, some students join just to read the books, not compete.

“The kids who join the club have a love of books and learning. Reading and truly absorbing 20 books is a big ask for fourth and fifth graders, but each one has brought value and humor into their lives. Whether or not they compete, the students get so much out of the experience,” Coombe said.

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Looks like this Newport Elementary teammate aced his answer

The culmination of months of work began as students settled into their seats for the championship round of the 2024 Battle of the Books competition. The excitement inside the OASIS senior center was infectious as the last two teams took the stage.

The action started with two six-person teams from each school completing two rounds of 16 questions based on a list of 20 books the students had read and studied. After a tie-breaker round, six teams participated in the third round. After another tie-breaker round, teams from Newport Coast and Our Lady Queen of Angels began the championship round. Quizmaster Coombe carefully read the first question. Students from Newport Coast huddled across their table, frantically whispering among themselves.

With just five seconds left, Team Captain Ava Parsa began reciting her team’s answer. “Incorrect,” Coombe said, then quickly moved on to the question for the other team. The Newport Coast team sat back in their seats, slightly defeated.

In the end, Our Lady Queen of Angels was declared the victor, as OASIS’ auditorium erupted in shouts of joy and generous applause. The winners were presented with the book-shaped trophy painted by Eastbluff parent Shina Hopkins.

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These Newport Elementary students are all smiles at Battle of the Books 2

It was an intense morning to cap off the months of hard work by students, teachers and parents. “It’s an amazing amount of time and effort that these kids put in. They meet before or after school or even skip recess to practice for this moment. Their love of books and learning is awe-inspiring,” said District Librarian Julie Vasi.

“I am so proud of you all. You did well today,” Sonora Teacher Hilary Fenn told her students as they exited the senior center and headed for the ice cream truck across the street waiting for participants.

The competition may be over this year, but planning for next year’s Battle of the Books will soon start. “We’ll be back,” Krolopp said with a nod. “I’m looking forward to next year’s books already.”


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