In a storybook-like ending, Riverside Middle School’s Battle of the Books team won the state championship on Friday, May 6.
They first competed in Districts, which was in South Creek, then qualified for Regionals in Edenton.
Media coordinator and coach Sheila Robertson, said the state finals were to be held online this year as some schools in the state still had a mask mandate due to COVID-19 and were not allowed to travel. The final finals were held at Wake Tech Community College in Raleigh.
Robertson is also the state coordinator for Middle School Battle of the Books. She is in her first year of teaching in Martin County, having been in Beaufort County Schools for many years.
Because she’s coaching this year, she couldn’t coordinate the state meet as she has in the past.
Its co-chair, Mary Tobin of Surf City Middle School, coordinated the final competition, which was hosted by North Carolina author Alan Gratz.
“Gratz has been on several Battle of the Books lists,” Robertson said.
The quiz-style contest is sponsored by the NC School Library Media Association (NCSLMA).
“The NCSLMA started the Battle of the Books years ago,” Robertson said, adding that it expanded all three levels: elementary, middle and high school. It is run by volunteers.
“I’m in charge of the Middle School Battle of the Books contest,” she said. “We donate our time to write questions for Battle of the Books, coach teams and take them to competitions.”
With his experience, RMS students have been coached by one of the best.
“Having written questions for Battle of the Books in the past, I know what kind of questions to ask and how to prepare for them,” Roberson said. “We are working on practical issues. I know the kind of details they are looking for.
During a competition, “You have to answer the questions in 20 seconds,” said Caoimhe Perry, one of five members of the RMS team.
“You also need to know, by the question being asked, the title and author of the book the question comes from,” Robertson added.
Jillian Powell said the toughest questions came from the book “Under the Mesquite” by Guadalupe Garcia.
Robertson said there were 23 books on the list this year. Not all children are required to read all books, although some do.
“We make sure all the books are read by the team,” she said.
Three of the five team members read each book.
Other members of the RMS team are Bella Place, Wyatt Tyson, Jamil Morris.
Next year, there will only be 16 books on the read list.
“They’re trying to make it more consistent across all three levels,” Robertson said.
Students will have approximately nine months to read and prepare for next year’s district competition.
Four of the team members are in sixth grade.
When asked if they plan on competing in Battle of the Books next year, all four answered with a resounding “yes.”
The fifth member of the team, Morris, is in eighth grade. He plans to attend Riverside next year and will be at Battle of the Books if they offer him.
Robertson said the chosen books are reviewed by a committee.
“They’re all appropriate for the grade level we choose them for,” she said. “All of the committee members read the books and we all agree that they deserve to be on the list. Almost all of them are awarded in one way or another.
Originally from Robersonville, she said, “Being back in Martin County after about 25 years is really like coming home.”
Up to six students can compete on stage at a time, according to Robertson.
But the RMS team of five beat the other teams.
“We were the smallest and youngest team in the whole tournament,” Powell said.
Misty Rushing, Director of RMS, said she was extremely proud of the team.
“They only had five members and four of those members were in sixth grade,” she said. “They haven’t missed any of the questions all this time – in any of the competitions. It’s incredible.”
Powell said she couldn’t wait until next year.
“The Battle of the Books is so awesome,” she said.
The team admits they are close.
“I have other groups of friends, but this is the group I feel most comfortable with,” Perry said.
They gave each other nicknames and adopted the name Team United Nations, “Because we’re all different races,” said Perry, who is Asian American.
“They did this on their own,” said Robertson, who they call School Mom. “We have a lot of diversity. They get along very well and have formed a close bond of friendship.
Robertson said the team members have found a “place” at school, where they may not always fit in.
“These are kids who don’t normally play sports, but it gives them a way to compete that’s an academic outlet,” Robertson said. “They might be teased a bit, but as you can see they’re quite resilient.”
“And smart,” Morris added.
“It’s worth it,” Perry said.
The team said they were avowed nerds.
“[Battle of the Books] taught us how to work as a team and how to communicate well,” added Perry. She also said she learned to hold her tongue.
The list of last year’s books is as follows:
North Carolina School Library Media Association
2021-2022 College Battle of the Books List
The Crossover – Kwame Alexander
I Will Always Answer – Caitlin Alifirenka & Martin Ganda
Etiquette and Espionage – Gail Carriger
Maybe He Likes You – Barbara Dee
Ashes in Asheville – Sarah Dooley
Paper Stuff – Jennifer Richard Jacobson
Roller Girl – Victoria Jamieson
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Young Readers Edition) – William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America – Teri Kanefield
Song for a Whale – Lynne Kelly
Under the Mesquite – Guadalupe Garcia McCall
All of the above – Shelley Pearsall
A Good Kind Of Trouble – Lisa Moore Ramée
Between Shades of Gray – Ruta Sepetys
Undefeated – Steve Sheinkin
Counting by 7 – Holly Goldberg Sloan
The Screaming Staircase – Jonathan Stroud
The House Bridge – Padma Venkatraman
Beyond the Shining Sea – Lauren Wolk