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Holladay Journal

Cottonwood Elementary students beg teachers for more reading time in Battle of the Books

Mar 30, 2023 02:22PM ● By Heather Lawrence

Twins June and Henry Bench are second graders at Cottonwood Elementary who love to read, and they’ve finished all the books on both lists. (Steve Bench)

Cottonwood Elementary is taking student reading to the next level with their schoolwide Battle of the Books program. During the year, students read from a book list of 12-16 books and then are eligible to be on a battle team and earn prizes. Teachers say it’s taken off “like crazy.”

“Granite District used to participate in the national contest, but not anymore. So I talked to the librarian at Upland Terrace Elementary, and learned how to start an in-school program,” said Cottonwood’s librarian Jill Thain.

Thain worked with teachers Carly Holmes and Jessica Blackham to create a tailor-made battle plan. When students finish a book from the list, they turn in a summary sheet signed by their parents. Incentive prizes are given during weekly library time by PTA volunteers. Classes can also earn a Chick-Fil-A party and other prizes.  

“One good thing about our version is it involves the lower grades on a junior team, which isn’t part of the national contest. To include them, we divided our school into Battle Readers grades three to five and Junior Readers K to two,” Holmes said. 

Holmes teaches fourth grade and is over the Battle Readers group. She made the list of 16 books, which includes a Harry Potter book and “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” 

Blackham teaches first grade and is over the Junior Readers. She chose 12 books, including an Elephant and Piggie book and one from the Magic Tree House series. Both teachers said the competition element motivates their students to read.  

“We hung posters in the hallway with all the class totals on it. My class saw that other classes were reading, too, and knew they had to step up their game. Now, whenever we have free time, they ask me, ‘Can we have reading time?’ It’s the best thing for a teacher to hear,” Holmes said.

To make the program accessible to readers of all levels, audiobooks and reading time with parents “counts.” When students finish a battle book, they get a personalized pin of its cover for their lanyard.

The contest heats up in spring when students are “drafted” to a team. Together, the teams study their summary sheets to prepare for the big battle: a game show-like contest run by Holmes, Blackham, Thain and the PTA. 

“We ask them reading comprehension questions and they hit a buzzer to answer. It’s really fun and they love it. The winning classes and teams can earn a Chick-Fil-A party and other prizes. Once we announced that was the prize, the response went crazy,” Holmes said.   

Second-grade twin siblings June and Henry Bench are right on the fence between the Junior Readers list and the Battle Readers list, so they decided to read all the books on both lists. 

“Our plan was to just do the senior list since they’re both good readers. But they had so much fun they read all the books on both lists. The competition lit a fire under them both to finish them all. It’s incredible to see all the buttons on their lanyards,” said parents Steve and Carly Bench. 

Both June and Henry have found new favorite books through the contest. 

“The book ‘Amari’ by B.B. Alston is my favorite from the list. It’s about a girl who has illegal powers. She’s a magician and she’s trying to find her brother. My parents thought it was too big because it’s a chapter book, but I’m glad I got an opportunity to read it,” June said. 

Henry’s favorite from the list was “The Million Dollar Shot” by Dan Gutman. “It’s about these kids who get to do a free throw for a chance to win a million dollars,” Henry said. “I’m glad that they put it on the list or else I might not have seen it.”