This year for marked the first year for a new competition in Wilson County middle schools: the Wilson County Battle of the Books.
Gina Wiser, librarian at Winfree Bryant Middle School, said that though this is the first year for the competition in the county, the program has been in place in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools for several years. She said she helped launch the program in Nashville before taking a job at Winfree Bryant.
The Battle of the Books is a competition in which middle school students read from a list of 20 pre-selected books then compete against each other by answering questions based on the books.
According to Wiser, the list of books used was chosen last summer and was compiled by a group of middle school and public librarians. The list contains books representing a wide range of reading levels, plots, settings and styles.
“A lot of time, effort and heated-but-friendly debate goes into selecting the books,” Wiser said. “Variety is the goal.”
Wiser said they look for variety in content—historical fiction, science fiction, biography, non-fiction, male and female protagonist—and in format—graphic novels, novels written in verse and reading level.
“Battle of the Books is designed to motivate and encourage students to read outside of the classroom for their own personal enjoyment,” Wiser said. “The goals are to help them gain confidence as readers and to broaden their reading interests.
“I think all of the kids who participated this year really enjoyed preparing for Battle of the Books.”
This year’s event was held at Winfree Bryant.
All Wilson County middle schools were invited to participate in the event this year, however Carroll-Oakland and Winfree Bryant were the only schools to participate. Carroll-Oakland librarian Melissa Williams also helped Wiser during the program.
“I’m hoping we will have at least twice as many schools participate next year,” Wiser said.
She said she’d seen “really positive changes” toward reading in the attitudes of the participants since the beginning of the whole process.
“Some who were sort of ‘on the fence’ about reading—they could really take it or leave it—have had a change of heart,” Wiser said. “On the other hand, I’ve noticed that the kids who were already avid readers when the program began have broadened their horizons a little bit through this program.”
She said the book list pre-selected for the students also helped them step out of their comfort zones.
“Lots of times strong readers are really enthusiastic about one specific type of book, and it can be tricky as a librarian to get them to branch out and try something new,” Wiser said.
Wiser said the event was also a good way to take reading from an isolating activity to competitive fun.
The champion of this year’s Battle of the Books competition was from Winfree Bryant and consisted of team members Macie Rountree, Rodrigo Galvez, Meilia Tecson, Mason Taheny and Mikayla Taylor.
“I’m not saying everyone has enjoyed reading every book on the list; that’s not the goal,” Wiser said. “But every student who participated in Battle of the Books can find something positive to take from the experience, whether they grow more confident, branch out by reading from different genres or just enjoy the camaraderie and spirit of being part of a team, it’s all good.”