Battle of the Books: Kids summer reading competition comes to Brainerd
The Battle of the Books is open this summer to all third through seventh grade students who live within Brainerd Public Schools boundaries.
BRAINERD — Kids in Brainerd who like reading, getting free books, eating pizza and winning prizes are in luck.
The Battle of the Books has begun.
A kickoff event took place March 21 at Forestview Middle School for a reading incentive program presented by the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library, Brainerd Public Schools Foundation and Brainerd Public Schools.
Part book club, part competition and all sorts of fun, the program is open to third through seventh grade students who live within the district limits of Brainerd Public Schools, including private school and homeschool kids.
The idea came from Laurie Wig, a board member of the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library.
“I just felt we should put a concerted effort to kids — beyond our summer reading program, even beyond what we already do, which is amazing,” Wig said during an interview Thursday, March 30, at Loco Espress Brainerd.
While attending the friends of the library’s annual Wine and Words event — featuring author speakers — Wig thought about a similar event geared toward kids.
The Battle of the Books is a nationwide program that encourages kids to read and gives them the opportunity to battle others with their newfound book knowledge.
Brainerd’s program will be a little different. Not only will participants receive free books to read and prepare them for a battle in the fall, but they’ll be able to discuss literature with both adults and other kids.
“I loved the idea of a contest, but then when I thought about it, what I liked about reading books is the social aspect,” Wig said.
Working with Sheila DeChantal, board president of the Friends of the Brainerd Public Library, Wig chose eight books for the activity — many written by Minnesota authors or taking place in Minnesota — of various genres with different themes. There are stories of fantasy, realistic fiction and historical fiction, dealing with themes like love, loss, forgiveness, diversity, acceptance, tolerance and war.
“I called all the authors — every single one — and they’re all on board,” Wig said.
The books are split into two groups based on age and topics. Third and fourth grade students will read one set, while older kids can decide which set of four books they want to read.
Participants will read four books — one every three weeks — in the summer. After finishing each book, there will be a book club event of sorts for students to discuss the books with both adult volunteers and other students. The following week, they’ll get to meet the author, who will appear either in person or via Zoom.
The battle will take place in September.Kids will be split into groups of four and go head-to-head with their peers, answering questions about the books they read.
“The Battle of the Books around the nation is really for high potential readers, and that’s our target, but it’s not our target,” Wig said. “... We want to give kids a place to belong through the whole summer. We want them to have the benefits of a book club, which are social, which are friends, laughter, people checking in on us, talking about good books, stretching our minds on topics.”
Organizers plan to have food and beverages available at each session kids attend and hope to partner with community members and businesses for refreshments and prizes.
“We want community involvement. This is a great opportunity for the kids in our community, and we are looking for people willing to donate prizes,” DeChantal said. “... I want to put their logos all over. … I’m always raving that I think our community is awesome, and I think it’s just a great way for them to show support.”
Every kid who participates in the program will walk away with new books, a tote bag, a t-shirt and likely several other prizes along the way. Those who participate in the events throughout the summer and check off other activities — like being part of the library’s summer reading program — will earn entries into a larger drawing at the battle.
While the schedule might sound busy — especially for the summer — Wig said participants are not required to attend them all. The only requirements to join the program is to pick up the books in early June, attend a battle prep session in mid-August and be at the battle Sept. 12.
Everything else is optional, and there is no cost for any of it, as the school district has agreed to allocate summer school funds to the program.
Listening to the audio version of the books is an option, too.
“When I sell this to the kids too, I tell them this,” Wig said, “I said, ‘I know some of you are busy. I know you’re traveling to a hockey tournament. I know you’re going to the lake. I know you’re doing this. I know you’re doing that. But wouldn’t it be cool to sit around the vampire and listen to ‘Chasing Bigfoot’ with your whole family?”
DeChantal sees it as the kid version of Books, Burgers and Brews, which is the friends of the library’s monthly book club at Roundhouse Brewery.
“Books, Burgers and Brews was born out of the idea of getting people to realize the enjoyment of reading again like you did when you were a kid,” she said. “So this is the front end of that. It’s like getting them to love and be passionate about books because it’s so easy with all the things in our world that are crazy and wild — there’s so many other things to do.”
But this year, hopefully reading will be one more of those things.
Ninety students had signed up for the program online as of Thursday afternoon, and Wig had yet to pick up physical copies of sign up sheets from elementary schools where she talked to the students. The numbers so far exceed the goal of 80 kids Wig and DeChantal had when they started planning, but the numbers are not the main concern.
“This is just taking a whole new twist on how we can support literacy as a community,” Wig said. “… Even if you get five or 10 kids to become lifelong readers and lifelong thinkers, it’s worth it.”
For more information on the Battle of the Books, or to sign up, visit the school district’s website at bit.ly/BattleTheBooks . Students must be signed up by April 12.
Those interested in volunteering or donating to the program can email firstname.lastname@example.org .
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.