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Battle of the Books is a wonderful way to ramp up
children's interest in books. It was started in Alaska
by the amazing Roz Goodman, a wonderful librarian
I met 25 years ago when she came to New Jersey
to speak about it at our state conference and stayed
at my house. (I've wanted to go to Alaska ever since
I met Roz, and this year I finally got to do just that--
I did some workshops for school and public librarians
in Juneau last Feb., and another batch for librarians,
teachers, kids, and parents in Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla,
and Fairbanks in September. It was a highlight of my life.)
And it's still going strong.

I love Cheryl Youse's extension of Battle--her web page
and Book Museum ideas. Every one of us probably has 5
great ideas like that to help kids dig deeper into books, and
lucky for us, we have LM_NET as a forum to share our best
strategies. It seems to me that the Battle is just the culminating
activity to give kids something fun and motivating to cheer
about. You don't need to change the Battle; it's the background
work leading up to the game that can stress all those higher 
evel thinking skills.

What I loved to do with 5th graders every year was our own
kid-directed version of Battle. (I wrote about it in the first
Books Kids Will Sit Still For, way back when, and I'm too lazy
to rewrite it from scratch right now, so I'll cut & paste the text
below.) In the In What Book Game, the kids were in charge of
writing three questions, one for each book they chose to use.
They then wrote out their own game cards on color-banded catalog
cards (remember those?), and each 5th grade class had its own color.
While Battle asks many questions about each of, say 15 books,
testing children's literal comprehension skills, the In What Book Game
was more of a book motivation game, where kids would answer
questions about more than 100 books. (If there were 20 kids in
a class, each picked 3 fiction books they had read and loved, and
wrote one question about each book. So there were 60 questions
per team, with 2 teams facing off, making it a game of 120 questions.
If all the classes were bigger that year, I'd have the children just do
2 questions each, but that still represented about 100 books.)

Here's what I wrote about the game in Books Kids Will Sit Still For:

[Play the In What Book Game, which I developed after reading the
over four hundred questions about children's books in Ruth Harshaw
and Hope Harshaw Evans's In What Book (Macmillan, 1970).   Third
through sixth graders can play this one.   Using fiction books the library
owns and that they have read, students each write two or three plot
statement questions, beginning with the words, "In what book." Try these:

a.   In what book do Bran and Fiona travel back in time to ancient Ireland
with a boy who can transform himself into a fish?
b.   In what book do Marv the Magnificent and Raymond the Rat
search through a cash register to find who bought a doll baby carriage
with their friend Fats still inside it?
c.   In what book do a brother and sister run away from home and
spend a week hiding out at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City?

a.  The Wizard Children of Finn by Mary Tannen
b.  The Great Rescue Operation by Jean Van Leeuwen
c.  From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

Once the children have written their questions and answers,
submitted them to you for approval and comments, and rewritten
them as needed, hold a class practice session. Players need to
read each question clearly and slowly. Two classes can compete
against each other, with one, two and three point rounds.
(If the classes are large, we only play two rounds so there's time
to finish.) Teams alternate reading their own questions aloud,
and points are given when any player on the opposite team
correctly volunteers a title. We give a bonus point for each author 

Here are some more details:
I was careful about approving the books children picked to use.
They would try to read fiction books they thought no one
else would know, and that's fine, within reason. If too
many of books are obscure, then the game drags. Also,
each team could only use a book once, so you didn't have
3 kids using, say, Ramona the Pest. It was entirely possible,
though, that someone in another class would write a question
about the same book, and that was fine.

I always did this project--which took 6 weeks, but can be done
in 4--at the end of the year, as a final blast before the fifth graders
moved up to middle school. We'd announce the scores over the
loudspeaker each day, and younger kids would say, enviously,
"I can't wait to be in 5th grade so I can play In What Book!"

Here's the breakdown:
WEEK 1: Introduce the activity. With each class, do a series
of 1-sentence "In What Book" booktalks, using a variety of books,
from well-known to not-so, but all titles you know they'd love.
Have children guess each title, and then you hold up the book
and identify the full title and author's name. ("Ooohhh. Can
I have that one?" "Sure!" Hand out books on demand as you
finish each one.) Explain how the game works, and urge students
to go over the list of books they've read and loved this year,
and check out new ones to read, too. Write several questions
with them, using chart paper, to demonstrate how to do it.

Pick a book they all know and have them write a question
collaboratively. Analyze what makes a good question. Ask
them to compile and bring along a list of possible fiction books
as an assignment for the following week. If you're collaborating
with teachers on this (which is optimal, of course, if you can swing it),
have kids write their 3 questions in class or for homework, and
bring them to the library for your next session.

WEEK 2: Children write and/or edit their In What Book questions.
You need to approve each book. (If it's very obscure and you know
no one has read it all year, don't approve it. Like Gay Neck, The Pigeon.
Unless your kids are really into old old Newbery winners.
Which they probably aren't.) Even if you're only playing 2 rounds,
have them write 3 questions so they can pick their favorite 2 to
use in the game. (Discuss again what makes a good question,
including adding enough interesting and intriguing information
so the book can't be confused with another one, but not too
much info to make it easy. Here's a pretty bad question:
IN WHAT BOOK does a boy learn how to eat fried worms?
Here's a pretty good one: IN WHAT BOOK does an orphan
who lives in the walls of a Paris train station get caught when
he tries to steal a wind-up toy from an old man's toy shop?)

WEEK 3: Finish writing and editing questions. Have kids pair
up to read each other's questions for clarity, accuracy, and
iveliness. Have them double check facts, correct spelling of
titles, authors, characters, and then some. After you give
final approval to each set of questions, have them copy
their questions and answers over very neatly onto game cards.
Catalog cards are the perfect size for them to hold during the
game. Have them decide which question should be worth one
(easiest), two (harder), or three (hardest) points, and number
their cards. 

WEEK 4: Practice session. Kids read their questions aloud
to the rest of the class, slowly and with expression.
Other kids in the class guess titles and authors. By the
end of the practice session, they will have heard all
of the questions and be familiar with titles and authors.
This will help tremendously when they play with another class.
Sometimes you don't even need to have read a book to correctly
guess the title or author.

WEEK 5: The Big Competition. One class plays another. It's all
very exciting. Set up two or three rows of chairs facing
another two or three rows, with an aisle down the middle.
The teachers sit at one end as scorers. Use a chart or board
for scoring--make a nice score sheet.   Have teachers keep
the score board turned away from the kids. If a team knows
it's behind, the kids can get demoralized and miss easy questions.
Hiding the score helps players stay energized and enthusiastic.
You sit at the other end as moderator. The first child stands up
and reads his 1-point question. The other team has 10 (20? 30?)
seconds to answer. If more than one child raises her hand,
the class's teacher picks someone to answer. If that child
know the title, she gets a point, and if she knows the author,
a bonus point. Then a child from the other team stands up
and asks his question. And so on. Go back and forth, down
the row, until all the one point questions are asked. Move
into Round 2, where each question is worth 2 point, with a
third point if the child knows the author's name. And then
round 3, if you're ambitious and have the time.

WEEK 6: Competition continues. I had each class play
at least 2 of the other classes. Each game takes a good hour.
The trick is, you need to have each class ask exactly
the same number of questions. So if your classes have
20, 23, and 24 kids, make 20 your benchmark number
of questions for each round. During the competition,
if you have one class with 20 and another with 23,
at random, ask 3 kids to hand you their 1-point questions,
another 3 to hand over their 2-pointers, and, if you're
doing 3 rounds, yet another 3 to give up their 3-pointers.
This makes the number of questions exactly the same for
each class. To figure out the #1 class, tally up all their
scores, and the winning class will have the highest total score. 

The In What Book Game brought my fifth graders together
with a shared purpose--to read everything in sight--and made
them aware of all the wonderful books out there. They all
got to participate, and usually every person answered at
least one question and often more. They could answer a
question even if they'd never read the book but recognized
the description, which happened often. In What Book
questions are really one-sentence booktalks, and hearing
the other kids' questions would get everyone motivated
to read those books. Afterwards, I used to make up a
booklet of their questions, with all the answers at the back,
and hand it out to each child as a great supplement to their
summer reading lists. We're all winners when we read.

If you decide to try this with your students, do let me know
how it works out. That's one thing I really miss about being
a school librarian--working with kids on a week to week basis.
So it's always fun to do it vicariously.

A quick shout out and thanks to Shonda Brisco for sending out
copies of my Biography Hash lesson to folks who asked. It use to be
available online, but I couldn't find it when I looked this time.
FYI, there's also a totally re-written and updated version of the
lesson in Books Kids Will Sit Still For 3 on page 90-96, the
"Investigating Biographies" section in the "Books Across the
Curriculum" chapter.

Good reading, everyone--

Judy Freeman
Children's Literature Consultant
"Wild About Books" columnist
School Library Media Activities Monthly
Author of Books Kids Will Sit Still For 3
(Libraries Unlimited, 2006;
and the brand new Once Upon a Time!:
Using Storytelling, Creative Drama, and
Reader's Theater with Children in Grades K-6 (2007)
65 North Sixth Avenue
Highland Park, NJ 08904
732-572-5634 /

Start the year off right.  Easy ways to stay in shape.

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