In what Black-Eyed Susan Award nominated book does a character imagine a dimension where people have butts on their fronts? What about the one where someone mumbles "sdkjfmoisdm?" Or the one where the color gray is considered "practically patriotic?"
Those were just some of the questions — 20 in each of the two rounds — posed on Friday, March 31, to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students at the 2017 middle school Battle of the Books. There were 34 teams representing Mount Airy, Northwest, Oklahoma Road and Sykesville Middle schools in groups on the floor of the Westminster High School Gym, while parents and spectators packed the bleachers. As each question was called out, the teams would quickly confer, having only two minutes per question, then pass their written answer to a runner who would pass it to the judges.
The energy was as tense as any athletic playoff game, and groups of students groaned or shouted when each answer was revealed, depending on if they had nailed it or not.
"What we are doing is we are treating reading like sporting events," said Lisa Picker, communications manager with the Carroll County Public Library, which presents the Battle of the Books in partnership with Carroll County Public Schools. "You are drawing in kids who might otherwise be reluctant to participate in academic-related competition."
And by the same token, she said, it gives shy students or student who may never have participated in a team sport a taste of what it's like to make friends in a competitive environment and to show solidarity through team spirit. Many of the teams wore costumes to go with colorful, sometimes pun-based names, such as the Story Troopers, who wore Star Wars Storm Troopers caps, or the Nerd Herd with their glasses and suspenders.
The origin of the names of some teams are shrouded in mystery. Take Oklahoma Road Middle School's Spartan Books.
"We made the name in sixth grade," said eighth-grader Hayden Woodard. "We've done this for three years and I think it's really just because some of the people on our team were on a Greek kick back then."
This is the sixth year for the Battle of the Books, which was first launched for the fourth and fifth grades in 2012, Picker said. This was the first year that all of the middle schools came together for one, combined competition, whereas the elementary schools still compete with the others in their region — there were six such battles to come in 2017, with the Mount Airy area competition up next at Mount Airy Middle School.
The combined middle school competition, certainly seemed to increase the excitement for the students, the spectators, and the school administrators.
"It is one of my favorite things we do," said Sharon Lilly, vice principal of Oklahoma Road Middle. "The kids are very motivated; they practice with flash cards at lunch."
Each team is given a list of 11 books in the fall semester prior to the competition, Picker said, all being Black-Eyed Susan Award nominees.
"This isn't just something during school year based on an assignment; they choose to participate in this as an extra curricular," she said. "It's so moving to see them developing this love of reading and the energy that is around it."
At the end of the first round, some teams knew they were doing well, and others realized they were struggling.
What questions in the first round stumped Northwest Middle's Cheer Readers?
"Pretty much all of them," said Ella Bearr, a seventh-grader. Her team had decided to split up the reading of the books rather than having everyone read all 11, and "half of our team didn't show up." Still, she said, they were doing their best and having fun.
That same strategy of divide and conquer was working well for the full strength Nerd Herd, according to eighth-grader Ceanna Cooney.
"We have nine, so we all took like two or three of the books," she said. "We only missed the last question, so, we're hoping to get a 20 out of 20 on the next round."
In stiff competition with the Nerd Herd was Sykesville Middle's Book Brainiacs, another nine-member team with a solid showing in round one.
"We knew many of the questions through our practice sessions, and those that we didn't know, we worked together as a team to figure them out," said Juliana Lopez, a seventh-grader. "I, as well as several team members, have been doing Battle of the Books since fourth grade."
In the end, after a tense two-way tiebreaker between the Nerd Herd and the Book Brainiacs, for which place it was not revealed until the end, the contest winners were announced: the Twisted Tie Breakers in third, the Book Brainiacs in second and the Nerd Herd in first.
The crowd did go wild.
What advice would first place Nerd Herd member Cooney have for students following in their footsteps?
"Just have fun with it and keep an eye out for peculiar details," she said.
And the answers to the three questions at the top of this story? "House Arrest," by K.A. Holt, "Roller Girl," by Victoria Jamieson and "I am Princess X," by Cherie Priest.
For more information about the Battle of the Books, go to library.carr.org/programs/BOB.asp.