The Reading Retrievers
The Reading Retrievers in between battles on Thursday night in the library. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The backdrop of Wednesday night’s Philomath Elementary Battle of the Books finale certainly seemed appropriate — the school’s library. “READ!” — in all caps with an exclamation point — could be seen on a bulletin board situated above a bookshelf and directly behind the contestants. And nearby on the walls were signs such as “Create” and “Explore.”

The nine fourth graders who took part in the championship round certainly love to read. Finding success in the “battles” comes down to their collective knowledge of the 16 titles on this academic year’s Oregon Battle of the Books reading list. Squaring off in a best-of-three format, the Reading Retrievers took the school title with two straight wins over the Ancient Owls by scores of 35-8 and 40-15.

Members of the winning team were Alida Benbow, Sophia Brandt, Scarlet Panico and Sarah Workman. The runner-up Ancient Owls roster included Sam Noakes, Maddie O’Harra, Caitlin Riley, Spencer Schiminsky and Anika Stimac.

Molly Bell, a Response to Instruction and Intervention specialist at the elementary school, said the teams that tend to do well in battles have really put in the work.

“I think that having multiple players read the books so that they have more than one person that’s read that book so they can really put their heads together to answer the questions,” Bell said. “And I think the teams that do some of the practice questions ahead of time — they tend to get comfortable with the format of the questions, so that helps them out a lot, too.”

A battle consists of each team trying to answer questions for points. Up to four students play at a time, although teams can have alternates that sit off to the side. In all, there were eight teams with 34 students from Philomath Elementary and two from Philomath Academy participating. Broken down by grade level, there were five third graders, 14 fourth graders and 17 fifth graders.

“I think that I enjoy that it gets students participating, even if they don’t feel like they can do it on their own because it is a team event where they’re willing to try it out and work together with their teammates to make it happen,” Bell said when asked what she likes about the activity. “It also introduces them to books that they might not normally read on their own because there’s a wide variety of genres that they pick from the list of the 16 books.”

  • Battle of the Books participants
  • The Smarties
  • The Savage Wolves
  • The Roller Readers
  • The Reading Retrievers
  • The Reading Rabbits
  • The Book Pirates
  • The Ancient Owls
  • Team Books

It’s rare when an OBOB participant is able to read all 16 books that are part of the competition. Panico of the winning Reading Retrievers team said she was able to get through them all, listing her favorite as “The Storm Keeper’s Island” by Catherine Doyle.

“I liked reading all the books and working as a team with my teammates — we’re all really good friends,” Panico said. “We kinda understood each other’s thought processes and we had a really good coach who helped us organize everything.”

Bell said it’s typical for individual team members to read roughly half of the books, adding, “Very rarely will you have someone read all 16.”

Asked about why she thought the Reading Retrievers were so successful, Workman mentioned an organized coach, getting good readers for teammates and having team members who excel at the teamwork approach to battles.

“We were nervous before this but I think our team and our coach really helped us get out there and try,” said Workman, who also said “The Storm Keeper’s Island” was her favorite of the 10 titles that she read.

Battle of the Books
Molly Bell talks to the crowd that gathered to watch the Battle of the Books finale in the PES library. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

Benbow, who identified her favorite book among this year’s title as “Guts” by Raina Telgemeier, said she and her teammates were really able to cover a lot of ground with each reading certain books.

“I think we were successful because we worked together and we read all of the books so we knew,” Benbow said. “And we re-read them and we worked as a team.”

Members of each team wore T-shirts that were designed for this year’s competition. The winners had gray shirts with blue lettering and graphics, an illustration of a dog sitting in front of a stand displaying a book.

“We all have dogs and really like dogs,” said Brandt, who read 12 of the 16 books and identified “Astrid the Unstoppable” by Maria Parr as her favorite. “At the time, Alida was really into retrievers, so she was like we should get the name ‘Reading Retrievers’ because we all like to read and we all like animals.”

Benbow sketched out the idea for the shirt’s artwork.

The Ancient Owls
The Ancient Owls get ready to battle. (Photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The Ancient Owls on championship night were also wearing team T-shirts, which were blue with an illustration of an owl reading a book. “OBOB” and “2022” could be seen on facing pages of the book.

The Reading Retrievers will now move on to a regional competition with 20 other schools. It will be a virtual event through the Google Meets application.

“They made the decision early on to do virtual regional tournaments just for safety’s sake,” Bell said. “They actually canceled the state tournament this year, so that’s going to be the last time that they’ll have a chance to battle.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.