Battle of the Books

Battle of the Books in an American Schools Reading Challenge which began in the 1930s in Chicago but slowly gained popularity and is now played, not only all over the US but also in International Schools, world wide.

Here at Concordia I have just had my first experience of The Battle.

Battle of the Books is a unique reading incentive program which encourages children from upper Elementary and Middle schools to read from a selected list and then answer questions on the books competitively. Here in Shanghai we have separated our Battles into a middle school one for the older kids and an Elementary School one for the 10-12 year olds.

Unlike other American schools, Concordia’s Elementary School finishes at Fourth Grade (UK Year 5) so other schools had a mixture of grade 4 & grade 5 whereas I just had grade 4. I worked with 20 of our children who volunteered to take part as one of their after school activities. I ran two sessions a week during the autumn and spring after school clubs and saw roughly half the kids in each session. They were very excitable and often noisy!

8 books had been selected by the Librarians from across the International Schools in Shanghai and purchased in bulk. The titles this year were:

A story about a deaf girl who decides to help Blue 55, a whale who sings at a different frequency from the rest of his pod. A beautiful book all about communication.
Coyote and her dad journey across America in a converted school bus following the death of her mother and two sisters until Cotoye hears that the woods near her old house are being torn down. She realises that she must return to rescue her memory box and both of them must confront the truths that they have been running away from
Short Stories from outstanding international authors showing that heroes can be ordinary people who have the courage to do extraordinary things.
An adventurous romp throgh Indian mythology when Aru lets out The Sleeper from the Lamp of Destruction and has to travel to the underworld to rescue the universe, all in her Spider-Man pajamas!

Rocket to the Moon by Don Brown is a non-fiction graphic novel which charts the history of space flight from the earliest invention of gunpowder in China through the space race of the 1960s to the famous moon walks.

This graphic novels tells a story of frienship between two girls, one of them develops a brain tumor which threatens to derail their friendship. The characters are Chinese American, but the situations and experiences of wanting to have fun, friends and fit in are universal.
This was a longer book with a more complex plot which weaves through the darkest, strangest, and funniest twists and turns of Mayan myths. There are the scariest gods, the creepiest denizens of the underworld, and the most amazing and unlikely heroes, who have to save our world from being ripped apart.
Ideal for fans of Harry Potter, this is the tale of Morrigan Crow who as a cursed child is doomed to die on her 11th birthday but who is rescued by the enigmatic Jupiter North and taken to Nevermoor where she finds herself entered for the Wonder Society trials. Morrigan will have to prove herself to the judges and Jupiter, even if she has no idea what her ‘knack’ is!

The children were divided into teams and encouraged to read as many books from the list as possible. Some enthusiasts read ALL of them while some teams made sure that each book had been read by at least one team member.

In normal years the event would be a day away at a neighbouring school with the different elements taking place amidst other fun activities like meet the author etc. COVID, however meant that each school had to work remotely.

This year 6 Shanghai Schools took part with 21 teams. The Battle itself has three components:

The first was to redesign a front cover from one of the books.

Here are sone of the team submissions from across the schools. I was very impressed with the art work.

The second round was to decorate a cake with themes from one of the books. This was the most eagerly anticipated and exciting part of the Battle. Each team chose a book and then spent several weeks designing a decoration. All teams were supplied with a round cake so that all had the same basic size and shape to work from.

Much fun was had on the day but previous to this the teams had to use project management skills to plan the ingredients that would be needed very carefully. By the end of that process I was presented with a shopping list from each team that comprised, different coloured icing, frosting, sprinkles and even twizzlers and cotton candy (in purple!) among other things. We are fortunate to have an amazing online shopping system here called Taobao, which made my life MUCH easier.

Because the ingredients for the cake were not sourced through approved school suppliers, we were under strict instructions NOT to eat anything. This was a source of much discontent and the most frequently asked question that I heard was ‘when do we get to eat the cake?’ So to counteract any temptation I purchased muffins from our school cafe (all approved for consumption) and the kids ate those. Eagerly.

We judged our cakes locally and decided that Song for a Whale by the Moonlight Star Savers should get a Concordia prize. This was awarded at our assembly

The third element was perhaps the most challenging. After reading the books, teams had to answer questions using Kahoot, which is an online quiz software. It was important that someone in each team had read each of the books. It was a test of their knowlledge and understanding. We had to use our library so we were a little cramped.

Teams had a team leader and they each chose their own team name based on the books. We had: The Moonlight Star Savers; The Remarkable Coyotes; The Moon Runners and Heroes Without Capes.

The quiz was a test of the children’s knowledge, recall and their ability to work together as a team to come up with the correct answer. There were 120 questions to be answered and we had only an hour available so concentration ran high. I was delighted with the way eveyone co-operated (well nearly everyone, there was a little bit of rolling around on the floor, but not too much). It was incredibly tense and exciting. Scores are awarded on Kahoot not only for the correct answer but also for how fast the answer is given.

We were able to tell which of our teams was the local winner on the day but I had to add our scores into a central spreadsheet and await the outcome from the other schools who were doing their rounds on different days.

The teams were asked to evaluate the Battle and here are some of ther comments…

“Before if I didn’t have time to read then I didn’t really read. But when I came to the Battle I would read every day”

“This has made me read more in my life and to take more notes”

“I thought that this was really fun. I got to bond with more friends and laugh with more people”

“It has positively impacted my life by letting me see how much and how fast I can read. Before I didn’t really know that it would be this much fun.”

“I had a team to work with for the first time”

“It helped me to exercise my brain and my memory”

“It helps me READ more books and enjoy reading!”


We presented each child with a participation medal and to my huge delight The Remarkable Coyotes’ hard work paid off as they took FIRST PLACE.

There was much celebrating all round.

3 thoughts on “Battle of the Books

  1. This is amazing. I want to read the books!! Children’s literature can be so good. Lisa encouraged me to read different books that I simply would not have bothered with including The time travellers wife x Jodie Piccoult books x Joseph Delaney to name a few. It was good to see all the children interacting and learning new skills without even realising it. Well done to all involved


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