Johnson Youth Center duo wins book battle

Confidential participant credits victory to reading 'between the lines'

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010

A classic rematch of a defending champion versus last year's runner-up was in the works at Tuesday's Juneau School District Battle of the Books in the Thunder Mountain High School library.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"We lost by one question last year," Juneau-Douglas High School sophomore Matthew Staley, who has teamed up with Ian Andrews since sixth grade, said before the contest. "We are going for a little revenge right now. The battle is the easiest way to read new books, too."

TMHS sophomores Sorcha Hazelton and Makenzie DeRego were confident the addition of freshman Veronica Buness would help defend their title and improve a fifth-place finish at state.

"It's more intimidating because we had a teleconference last year and this year they are sitting right there," Hazelton of the Crimson Bears. "But we had Veronica pegged long ago. She's good, oh yeah, she's good. She was on our battle team in middle school."

Added Buness, "I like to read, and I remember stuff."

And then there was the dark horse, a talented duo representing the Johnson Youth Center. Competing via tele-conference due to confidentiality requirements, "T," a freshman, and "B," a junior, dominated the event.

"I didn't think we were going to do too good," T said. "It's pretty cool. I feel good and it's fun. There are some books I couldn't get into but I tried to find an easier solution, like putting myself in the character and just keep reading."

"Paying attention to the details is important," B added. "Being able to pick out the facts is important. We had so many study questions, we weren't concerned about matching authors and titles."

Battle of the Books is a reading incentive program developed by the Alaska Association of School Librarians in 1983. Each March, the titles for the following year's competition are chosen at the Alaska Librarians Conference in Anchorage. Book battles are held for kindergarten through second grade, third and fourth grades, fifth and sixth grades, seventh and eighth grades, and the high school competition. While the younger participants read 15 titles, high school students are given 12 more difficult readings. During the summer, librarians throughout the state write questions starting with the phrase "In which book ..."

On Tuesday, Teams of up to three members were required to answer 16 questions with the book title and author. They had 30 seconds to record their answer once a question was read. Librarians Barbara Kreher of Juneau-Douglas High School, Raandi Miller of Thunder Mountain High School and teacher Jo Dahl of Johnson Youth Center officiated. The JYC team scored perfect on 10 of 16 answers, receiving 80 points and the win.

"When I read, I read between the lines," T said. "I envision myself in similar situations."

"I hadn't read much before I came here," B added. "But now my favorite book is 'Last of the Breed.'"

JDHS I scored 61 and TMHS I scored 56. TMHS II (Zach Lesher and Denali Murray-Shapland) received 48 points and JDHS II (Lauren Pratt and Lynn Le) netted 32 points.

The state competition among the winners in more than 55 school districts is conducted by audio conference the week of Feb. 16. JYC has won the Juneau book battle three years running and went on to finish 20th at state in 2005, 13th in 2006 and ninth in 2007.

"I don't think I am going to write a book or anything," said T, an aspiring mechanic. "But I'll probably keep on reading until I'm an old man."

And the champions advice to young and old readers alike?

"Just keep reading," T said. "And then read some more."

"And go over practice questions," B added.

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