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Middle school readers train for Battle of the Books

By Katie V. Jones, katievjones@aim.com

11:21 AM EDT, April 18, 2013

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It's getting to be crunch time for the six teams gathered in Northwest Middle School's cafeteria. With the second annual Battle of the Books competition a little over a week away, the school's teams spent a recent afternoon answering questions revolving around the 20 Black-Eyed Susan Books on which the competition is based, all hoping to bring back another winning trophy to the school.

"We're going to win this," Margaret Akey, 12, said confidently, as the seventh grader's team successfully answered another question.

Emily Sweeney, a seventh grader, is happy with her team.

"I think we are doing really good so far," said Emily, 13. "We've gotten most of the questions."

After four rounds of questions, scores were close, and Gail Wisner, media specialist for Northwest, was pleased.

"From what I can gather, I think you all have a good shot," Wisner told the students after the mock competition. "Let's bring home first, second and third place!"

Created in 1992, the Maryland Black-Eyed Susan award is awarded by children who vote on his/her favorite book in four categories: picture books; grades 4-6; grades 6-9; and high school. Last year, to increase the popularity of the books, librarians at the Taneytown branch of Carroll County Public Library created "Battle of the Books" — and were amazed at the response.

"It was a huge success," said Jillian Dittrich, branch manager at Taneytown Library."It was so much fun to see the kids get into it."

The library was filled to capacity, Dittrich said, as 300 people gathered last year to watch teams from Northwest and New Windsor middle schools compete.

'It's a grueling process, actually," Dittrich said of the librarian's job of creating questions for the competitions. "It's hard. We're hoping it will be a challenge for them."

This year, Sykesville Middle School has entered the April 26 competition, which will be held at Francis Scott Key High School in anticipation of a bigger crowd.

"We're going to give them a run for their money," laughed Jeanne Mayo, media specialist at Sykesville, who has coached two teams for the battle. "The students are very excited. Get ready to bring home the trophy to the South Carroll area."

Teams start preparing for the competition at the beginning of the school year. Even though no one is required to read all 20 books from the grades 4-6 and 6-9 lists, many do. Typically a team member will focus on one or two titles, with the final answer decided by the team.

"Everybody is a team player. No body is working as an individual," said Holly Fuhrman, media specialist for New Windsor. "Everybody chimes in. We've been practicing really full on since January."

While the event is a plus for reading, the battle also is important for its camaraderie, Fuhrman said.

"It's a nice mix of kids at various age levels," Fuhrman said, of her five teams. "It brings kids together to make new friends they might not have had the opportunity to meet."

Yvonne Green, an instructional assistant at Northwest and a coach for a team, also commented on how the books brought students together.

"There is something in that group of books for everyone," Green said, of the Black-Eyed Susan nominees. "You can have a wide range of readers on a team."

Everyone is encouraged to attend the event and support their school. Dittrich hopes even more middle schools will participate next year.

"I think it is going to grow," Dittrich said of the books competition. "It is so great to see the level of excitement you normally see at a sporting event for an event about reading.

"It's pretty cool to see."

Battle of the Books will take place on Friday, April 26, at 6 p.m., at Francis Scott Key High School, 3825 Bark Hill Road, Union Bridge.