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Book battle is open to all

The rush of competition, the excitement of witnessing two opposing sides’ fight for dominance and their struggle to emerge victorious in the face of difficult odds always makes for a great show.

However, while we’ve come to expect these kinds of high-tension scenes from widely publicized sporting events and competitive reality TV, we don’t usually think of them as being a potential part of the academic world.

Enter Oregon Battle of the Books, the Oregon Association of School Libraries’ state-wide initiative that’s looking to change all that.

On March 15, The Dalles Wahtonka High School will be hosting its first regional tournament featuring the Sherman, Wasco and Hood River county “OBOB” teams, each going head-to-head for a chance to compete at the state and—perhaps—even national levels.

“Think of it in terms of literary Jeopardy,” Wasco County School District Librarian and OBOB coordinator Jim Tindall advised The Chronicle in a recent interview. “In an OBOB battle, you have two teams of four students with an adult moderator in the middle asking questions that can cover anything from the book’s title to specific content, stuff that can prove very challenging for even the most discerning reader.”

Described on the OBOB website as “a statewide voluntary reading motivation and comprehension program” in which third through 12th grade students “are exposed to quality literature representing a variety of literary styles and viewpoints,” the overall mission of the program is “to encourage and recognize students who enjoy reading” and “to promote cooperative learning and teamwork among students.”

Every battle, Tindall said, creates “a high-intensity atmosphere that’s really engaging to watch. Students get really into it, parents get really into it… It’s wonderful to see them both come out to promote literacy in the community at events like this.”

In order to be competitive, Tindall said each team has to know all the books on their grade-level reading list very well. Strategies for achieving this vary; some choose to divide up the books evenly between team members while others commit to reading every single title.

A member of the state committee that sets each year’s reading list, Tindall also serves as a coach for this year’s OBOB team at The Dalles Wahtonka High School, which is currently comprised of about 5-8 students.

“Team sizes vary from school to school, and some of the elementary schools have around 30 students participating. Regardless of the age of participants, though, coaches are here to provide them with the support they need to be successful,” Tindall said. “We conduct mock battles and help them structure their reading to the best of their advantage.”

“It’s a shame that people often think that if a competition is based around an academic program, it means it’s only open to TAG or AP students,” Tindall said. “But this is entirely a misconception. I think any group of four readers can be competitive if they really band together and approach it as a team.”

The program, which is run exclusively by volunteers organized through the Oregon Association of School Libraries (OASL), is partially funded through the Library Services and Technology Act. The remaining tab is picked up by district libraries, which provide the additional necessary funding, including everything from books for the students to covering the $50 per-school registration fee and the funds used to generate suitable awards. In the past, these have included ribbons and medals, but Tindall said he hopes that one day there can be an official OBOB trophy to award the winning regional team.

“Right now,” Tindall said, “what we’re really looking for are some self-confident, able readers to serve as moderators and community members who are passionate about literacy to be time keepers and scorers. Any interested community member is absolutely welcome to volunteer.”

A comprehensive training for all those who wish to volunteer at the March OBOB tournament will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 26 at 5 p.m. at The Dalles Middle School library.

For more information about the program, the upcoming February training, or the March invitational, contact Jim Tindall at (541) 506-3449 ext. 4010 or tindallj@nwasco.k12.or.us.

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