The Reading Retrievers team of Alida Benbow, from left, Scarlet Panico, Sarah Workman and Sophia Brandt won Philomath Elementary’s Battle of the Books competition for the third straight year on Wednesday evening. (Photo by Edward Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Wearing those familiar T-shirts with an illustration of a dog sitting in front of a book, the four-member Reading Retrievers won Philomath Elementary’s Battle of the Books competition Wednesday evening.

The team of fifth graders that includes Alida Benbow, Sophia Brandt, Scarlet Panico and Sarah Workman have won the annual battle for three straight years now.

In a best-of-three final in the school library, the Reading Retrievers took two straight to defeat the Rockstar Readers, a third-grade group that includes Madi Canaday, Lilah O’Rourke and Sophia Sather.

The Oregon Battle of the Books is a statewide voluntary reading motivation and comprehension program for third graders through high school seniors. Each school year, the organization selects 16 novels for each of the three grade-level divisions (3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). Participating schools assemble teams of up to five players to read the books and then they are tested on their retained knowledge of the material. 

Sarah Workman, from left, Alida Benbow, Sophia Brandt and Scarlet Panico celebrate their first-place finish in the annual Philomath Elementary School Battle of the Books. (Photo by Edward Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Answering questions from this year’s books, the Reading Retrievers cruised through the local competition’s early rounds. The championship-round questions were the hardest.

Said Benbow, “This was our most challenging round.”

A love of reading and solid team chemistry has served as a secret to the team’s success.

“We are great friends — always and forever,” Brandt said.

On game night, the girls wore the same shirts as they did in previous battles.

“We are starting to grow out of them,” Benbow said.

The Reading Retrievers agreed that their favorite books were “Snapdragon” by Kat Leyh and “Spark” by Sarah Beth Durst. Their least favorite? “The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart” by Stephanie Burgis.

The Reading Retrievers advance to the Oregon 2C Regional Battle of the Books on March 4 at Crescent Valley High School. There, they will go head-to-head against other qualifying teams, including those from Corvallis and Albany. The teams will once again be tested on the knowledge of this year’s selected 16 books. 

The Reading Retrievers vow not to sit on their laurels heading to the regional.

“We are going back and rereading some of the books and also finish reading the ones we did not finish,” Benbow said.

The team may continue its dynasty if they chose to compete in the Battle of the Books at the middle school and high school level.

The Battle of the Books veterans have advice for PES students looking to compete in next year’s competition.

“Read as many of the books as you can and remember the names of the main characters from each book,” Benbow said.

The Rockstar Readers’ Sophia Sather, from left, Lilah O’Rourke and Madi Canaday prepare to answer a question Wednesday evening in the Philomath Elementary library.(Photo by Edward Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Workman reminds participants not to be discouraged if you start a game off slow.

“Remain confident,” Workman said. “Tonight, we missed some early-round questions, but we turned it around and focused on the ones we answered correctly. Then we looked up and had a lot of points.”

Panico agreed. “Exactly. Don’t panic.”

Brandt encourages her teammates to speak up strongly with an answer that they know is correct, especially when the others may be unsure or disagree.

“There have been times when I had a correct answer in my head, but I didn’t speak up – then it is too late,” she said. “So always put your answers out there.”

The Reading Retrievers get psyched up in preparation of this year’s Battle of the Books finale. (Photo by Edward Wienhoff for Philomath News)

Added Panico, “Don’t let yourself get swayed to keep quiet. If you are confident in an answer, you need to speak up. And we do that quite often.”

Molly Bell, who serves as a Response to Instruction and Intervention specialist at Philomath Elementary, said she was very proud of the two teams that made it to the final battle. 

“It was great to watch them work together to support each other during each round of the competitions,” she said. 

Bell was also amazed at the effort put in by all 35 PES students who took part this year. It was the first time that several students had participated.

“I know that the great skill and composure that all the teams showed will help more students become interested in taking part next year,” Bell said.

At the end of Wednesday’s contest, Bell made special mention of the financial support received from Oregon State Credit Union and the Philomath Parent Teacher Organization, which helped PES purchase sufficient copies of this year’s 16 selected books.

Edward Wienhoff is the founder and former publisher/editor of the Monroe County (Illinois) Independent who recently relocated to Oregon. He has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry.