Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

Battle of readers cooks up lunchtime drama at library


Students have been checking a tournament bracket posted in the Haines School, but it’s not about basketball.

It’s the Tournament of the Readers, a reading and quiz competition resurrected last year by school librarian Leigh Horner. For about 10 days in February, the tournament livens up the library during lunch hour, as dozens of parents, teachers and students cheer on their favorite squads.

Anne Hanssen, grandmom of two competitors, was in the peanut gallery Wednesday as the third-grade’s Beautiful Book Bandits – some wearing masks – upended the fifth grade’s Golden Dragon Readers. Seven squads remain in the competition, scheduled to culminate in a championship round Monday.

“The tension rivals basketball,” Hanssen said. “The questions get harder and harder. They’re not easy. (Host) Karen (Garcia) does a great job and (students) really do operate as a team. It’s cool.”

About 45 students who compete take it seriously. Hayden Jimenez recently Skyped in from Mexico to take part and Haley Boron participated Wednesday from Juneau via teleconference. “It’s a competition, so there’s tears. There are a couple of challenges,” said Horner.

Horner credited former librarian Rhonda Hinson with starting the tournament more than a decade ago. It’s a local adaptation of “Battle of the Books,” a nationwide reading incentive competition that Horner said would be expensive to offer in a small district like Haines.

In December, Horner chooses 12 children’s books from different genres, including historical fiction, non-fiction, fantasy, graphic novels, mystery and classics. “The idea behind that is so that they can read over Christmas break.”

Horner and a team of volunteers read the books to develop nearly 500 questions needed for the double-elimination tournament. Students in grades 3-8 form teams of four and teachers cooperate by allowing some students out of class to participate.

Questions this week included, “In which book is there a character who likes to eat aluminum cans?” and “In the book ‘The Camping Trip that Changed America,’ where was Teddy Roosevelt buried?”

Fifth-grader Jacob Weerasinghe said he likes that the tournament introduces him to books he might otherwise miss. “For me, it’s hard to find a good book. Because I have to read the (tournament) books, I branch out into different genres. Also, I like winning.”

The Bandits’ victory this week over the older Golden Dragons wasn’t an anomaly. Last year, the fifth grade’s Despicable Unicorns won the tournament. This year, both seventh-grade teams already have been knocked out of the bracket while two third-grade squads remain.

“Older readers can have a false sense of security whereas the younger kids actually read all the books,” Horner explained.

Third-grade teacher Kristen White said she has no problem giving up class time for her students to compete in the tournament. “It’s about reading comprehension. They’re (asked) deeper-thinking questions. And the kids are excited about it. We brought our whole class at the beginning of the tournament.”

The winning team gets a donated pizza party. The top three squads win gift certificates to the Babbling Book paid for by proceeds from the annual Scholastic Book Fair, held at the school library each fall.


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