Like athletes preparing for a big game, some competitors began training last spring for the epic Battle of the Books, a round-robin knockout trivia tournament held at Ossining High School in October.
This year, 20 libraries that belong to the Westchester Library System sponsored reading teams. Hendrick Hudson Free Library, The Field Library in Peekskill, Croton Free Library and Ossining Public Library all competed. Each library entered two teams, representing grades 4-6 and 7-12.
Both teams from Briarcliff Manor Public Library emerged as champions in their categories.
The format replicated an academic college bowl competition. Each round included 25 factual questions about the books chosen for this year. Participants pressed a buzzer to try and answer the questions first and pile up points. Each grade level read different sets of five fiction titles (see list on this page).
At The Field Library, readers met every other Friday, said coach Maggie Leung, teen services librarian. She peppered her charges with questions about the material but took a laid-back tack.
“Some coaches are hypercompetitive and really want to win,” she said. “For me, we’re here to read five books, do our best and hopefully not lose.”
To leaven the intellectual heft, teams enjoyed creating offbeat names, along with logos and t-shirts. During scrimmages held before the final skirmish, The Field Library Bookworms squared off against the Croton Demonic Goats (inspired by a work of abstract art showcased in the library’s gallery). The younger group from Croton competed as Readers of the River.
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Hendrick Hudson’s teen team, Neuro Ferret Riders, mashed together elements from two of this year’s books and the younger squad called themselves Nine Tales to reflect the size of the roster and refer to one of their favorite Pokemon characters.
Beyond the levity and the festive atmosphere at the final competition, the event served a higher purpose. “There aren’t a ton of library programs or book clubs for younger readers,” said Gillian Rothchild, reference librarian and teen team coach at Croton Free Library. “It’s harder to coordinate and maintain interest at that level, so making it into a game helps.”
Marc Ferris is a regular contributor to River Journal North.