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Sauvie Island Academy students show off skills at Battle of the Books

A mix of fourth- and third-graders from Sauvie Island Academy place 15th among 60 Portland metro teams at regionals

PHOTO COURTESY OF NANCY FISHER - Students from the Sauvie Island Academy All-Star Readers team Betta Martin, Safia Richley, Jazmin Torres-Martinez, Yeleni Vasques-Mejia, Kade Fisher and Stella Barchus. A team of six students from Sauvie Island Academy earned a 15th place ranking out of 60 teams during the Oregon Battle of the Books held Saturday, March 12.

The SIA team, calling itself the “All-Star Readers,” qualified for the Multnomah County West Regionals earlier in the school year by beating six other teams in a schoolwide competition. During Saturday’s competition, the team faced 59 other schools from the Portland region.

The team was made up of three fourth-graders — Betta Martin, Safia Richley, Jazmin Torres-Martinez — and three third-graders — Kade Fisher, Yeleni Vasques-Mejia and Stella Barchus.

Oregon Battle of the Books is a yearly event sponsored by the Oregon Association of School Libraries. Students at schools across the state read 16 books during the school year and then study the content of the stories and memorize key details of each book. During the competition rounds, teams are quizzed on the members’ collective knowledge of the books. Questions gauge the student’s ability to memorize the title and basic plot of each book, as well as key details about characters, settings, plots and other trivia.

Nancy Fisher, a fourth-grade teacher at SIA, coached the book teams this year, teaching the students different study tools to help familiarize them with the stories. Parents also help students read books at home, and several students also organized team parties to get ready for the competition. Students said they were surprised and excited to make it to the regional competition.

“I didn’t think we would make it to regionals. I just thought it would be something fun to do,” Richley said.

Several of the fourth-graders competed in Battle of the Books last year, and had so much fun they signed up to do it again this year.

“It was really fun last year and I know that a couple years ago, when I was in second grade, people were like, ‘You should be in Battle of the Books, you’d be really good at Battle of the Books,’ so the next year I thought I’d try it,” Martin said. “My favorite part is reading the books and having fun together.”

The six students were put on a team together without really knowing one another beforehand, but became good friends through the process, Nancy Fisher said. The All-Star Readers formed at the last minute, but ended up making a strong group, she said.

“These students were unlikely heroes for sure, but I’m proud that they said yes to reading these books and working together,” the teacher said in an email.

A couple of students on the team speak English as a second language, while others are new to reading chapter books for fun, she explained. By encouraging students and giving them positive motivation to read, students learn reading skills that show them they are smart students, she said.

The students also explained that, by participating in Battle of the Books, they acquire reading comprehension skills that will be helpful when they start higher grades.

During Saturday’s competition, all 60 teams from the Portland region faced off one-on-one in the morning. In the early afternoon, the top 16 scoring teams are placed in a bracket-style competition, one of which was the SIA team. Nancy Fisher said no team from SIA has ever made it to the top 16. The third-grade students said it made them nervous to get so far in the competition, but added it was exciting to compete against other teams.

During the competition, team member Vasques-Mejia volunteered to provide moral support for the team, since only five students can participate at a time. Fisher said many parent and school volunteers were moved by her generosity and put together a small basket of donated gifts to show their appreciation for her actions.

Students in the club all said they love to read and being in the book group together helped them form friendships with others who they might not have been friends with otherwise.