Anchorage students put their literary know-how to the test in annual Battle of the Books

Anchorage third and fourth graders competed for literary glory in the district’s annual Battle of the Books event Wednesday evening.

Teams from around the district participate in the annual competition, which quizzes students’ knowledge on a select group of books.

Students in teams of three and four spent weeks preparing for the Battle of the Books, reading and practicing questions.

This week marked the culmination of that hard work. In the competition, which ran from Monday to Thursday, students in third through sixth grades from around the district vied for a chance to make it to the statewide competition, held telephonically later this month.

On Wednesday evening, students from the city’s northeast region gathered at West High to compete. The teams wore shirts emblazoned with school names and mascots, some tie-dyed, and one team even had matching knit beanies.

“We study the books, their names and authors, and we take small tests on our practice days, and today is the big finale,” said Elizabeth Medina, 8, a third grader at Homestead Elementary.

Lea Laasia, a fourth grader who goes to North Star Elementary, said preparing for the competition took reading all 12 books, which she did once she got home from school. Lea’s mom, Chan Laasia, said she helped her write down different facts, characters and details for potential future questions.


“I was excited in the morning, but when it got close to the time, I started getting nervous,” Lea said about the competition day.

Students, parents and chaperones fanned out from the West High cafeteria where they had gathered to check in Wednesday. They headed to their assigned classrooms in the high school, where teams of students listened as a judge asked them questions.

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“In which book do bull caribou lock antlers?” asked judge Erica Arnold in one of the classrooms.

Students from Aurora, Scenic Park and North Star Elementary turned to one another, whispering and hurriedly writing down their answers.

“Thirty seconds can feel like forever, and it can feel like quick time, too,” Arnold told the students as soon as their allotted time to scribble down an answer was up.

During this round, the groups all guessed correctly, as a student from each team stood to announce the answer: “Arctic Lights, Arctic Nights” by Debbie S. Miller.

The students and a crowd of family members sitting in the back applauded furiously.

Joseph Hollis, 9, Jackson Moseley, 10, Lucas Duffy, 10, and Sophia Wallace, 9, made up the team from Aurora Elementary.

“Not our best round out of all,” Joseph said, seemingly dissatisfied with their performance. “But we will get a comeback soon.”

Lucas, the team’s alternate, described the frustration of knowing some answers but being unable to help out his team.

“I knew some of the questions that my team didn’t, and they knew some of the questions that I didn’t,” Lucas said.

The group also resolved to work on their whispering, since a neighboring team overheard the group’s answers.

This year, the books included a chapter book about Abraham Lincoln as a pro wrestler; a reading, writing and rubber-band-shooting hamster; another book about a sword-fighting hamster; a book of stories set in Beijing; and a novel about a captive gorilla — inspired by a true story.

Aurora Elementary students Joseph and Jackson said their favorite was one of the hamster books, “Harriet the Invincible.”

The competition books are chosen by librarians from around Alaska. The group tries to pick a variety, including at least one graphic novel, and chapter books, said Stacey Schubert, librarian at Dr. Etheldra Davis Fairview Elementary.

Schubert helps run the event every year for the district. The Battle of the Books also includes other levels of competition, up through high school. It started in Chicago in the 1940s, and Alaska schools started participating in the early 1980s. The event has grown into an institution: Hundreds of Anchorage School District students sign up to participate each year, and even more participate statewide.


“We just like them reading, having fun with the reading, working together as a team,” Schubert said.

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By the end of the evening Wednesday, students filed back into the cafeteria for the award ceremony. Some teams were taking longer to finish their rounds, so Schubert stalled by singing the Hokey Pokey. Once all the teams arrived, Schubert announced each of the 57 teams to raucous cheers.

Two schools tied for first place: Ravenwood Elementary and Family Partnership Charter School. Alaska Native Cultural Charter School won the sportsmanship award.

Following this week’s district competition, the statewide battle begins in late February.

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Morgan Krakow

Morgan Krakow covers education and general assignments for the Anchorage Daily News. Before joining the ADN, she interned for The Washington Post. Contact her at