Getting kids excited about reading isn’t always easy. That’s why Becca Gaguine of Montessori Borealis in Juneau said a program like the Battle of the Books is just the right kind of incentive kids need to learn.
Gaguine cited a comment from the parents of Hallie Reid, one of Gaguine’s students and a Battle of the Books participant, as a perfect example.
“One thing that Hallie’s mom shared with me is that Hallie read more in the last few months than she’s ever seen her read because she was excited to participate and was even re-reading some of the books just so she’d be prepared,” Gaguine said.
After winning both school and district competitions in February, Gaguine’s team of third and fourth graders participated in the Battle of the Books state competition on Tuesday where they placed 10th out of 33 teams from districts all over the state. The Battle of the Books is a statewide Alaska reading motivation and comprehension program sponsored by the Alaska Association of School Librarians.
The goals of the program are to encourage and recognize students who enjoy reading, broaden reading interests, increase reading comprehension and promote academic excellence, according to the AKASL website.
This year’s team consisted of Gaguine’s daughter Lilah Gaguine, Maddie Lesh, Lyndley Nakamura and Reid, who was the only third grader on the team.
As the girls explained, Lilah was the “writer,” Hallie was the “thinker,” Maddie was the “alternate” and Lyndley was the “speaker.” Together the four girls of Montessori Borealis Public School worked together to answer reading comprehension questions based on 12 books they’ve each been given the chance to read starting at the beginning of the school year.
“I had read all of the books and I read a lot of them several times,” Lilah Gaguine said. “‘Juana and Lucas’ by Juana Medina, I read that one eight times because it was just easy to read.”
Due to funding limitations, Gaguine explained that state competitions take place over the phone, which meant that the four girls spent much of the day stuck inside of a small office space at Borealis Montessori for roughly six hours. Gaguine said that while that can be a lot to ask of third and fourth graders, between the excitement of the competition and the small trampoline inside the office, there was enough to keep everyone distracted.
“Our lovely counselor let us use her office,” Gaguine said. “This is probably where we hung out for like six hours, with only the trampoline to entertain us.”
Gaguine further explained how her stepping in as the official coach happened somewhat by accident. Battle of the Books is typically run by each school’s librarian, but due to the smaller size of Borealis Montessori, they don’t have a librarian, which Gaguine said forced the teachers to have to get creative.
“I’ve been sharing it with one of our upper elementary teachers because in Montessori we have mixed grade classrooms,” Gaguine said. “I’m a first, second and third grade teacher and then Cory is the fourth, fifth and sixth grade teacher, but he had to leave part way through the year due to medical reasons, so I was like, ‘I guess I’m the the Battle of the Books lady now.’”
Throughout the many hours of competing, though times were tough, the girls each said there were plenty of favorite moments that, much like the books they were quizzed on, they’re not likely to forget.
“My favorite moment was probably when we challenged,” Reid said. “I thought it was a lot of fun flipping through the book to find something.”
Nakamura added: “My favorite moment from the district battle was we didn’t think we were going to win the first or second battle but then we were all so surprised when we did. The look on Lilah’s face was really funny.”
When things got too stressful, however, Lesh explained that the girls were ready with a game plan on how to shake off the nerves with Taylor Swift to give themselves high hopes with Panic! At the Disco.
“I think it was really fun when we were doing the battles and working together as a team to figure out what the answer was. Sometimes we got it wrong, like in the state battle we started to lose hope but then the second part with did a dance break with ‘High Hopes’ and ‘Shake it Off’ and then we got like more excited.”
Though the girls would end up with 10th place, as they each explained, it might as well have been first place to them because they still got to end the day with celebratory ice cream sandwiches.
“I had been texting with parents throughout the day to give them updates since they couldn’t watch,” Gaguine said. “Finally, I just said, ‘We only have 30 minutes of school left, can I just take these girls to get ice cream?’ So, then we had something to celebrate.”
And more than winning (or the ice cream), the competition is first and foremost about encouraging kids to get excited about reading, which Nakamura said helped her personally with her own struggles.
“It’s fun and it can encourage you to read books you wouldn’t normally choose and to learn more about people if you go all the way to state,” Nakamura said.
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.