Battle of the Books

cb9c2b1bc0fb978749f9fa347c1c04c2There are many, many reasons I’m glad my tour of duty as an elementary school mother is over. Sure, I enjoyed aspects of having younger children like being able to actually understand their homework. I also loved the field trips and school parties until the sugar police took over and turned school celebrations into a treatise of why food is the enemy. I’m still steamed about the time my Halloween cupcakes, with probably two inches of the yummiest buttercream frosting you’ve ever tasted accessorized with a Nutter Butter cookie dipped in white chocolate to look like a ghost, were turned away at the third grade classroom door for “exceeding the sugar guidelines.” Haters.

Besides the sugar wars perhaps the number one thing I don’t miss about elementary school parenting is Battle of the Books. Because it’s a battle alright . . . between the parents. For those of you not initiated in the ways of turning reading into a competitive bloodsport let me explain. Kids voluntarily sign up to participate in Battle of the Books. Teams are formed and parents offer up their services to be “book coaches.” Each grade level is assigned the same 10 (or so) books to read. Kids on the team pick at least two books they plan to be the “experts” on and study groups are formed so each team is prepared for the book battle which usually takes place a couple of months after the teams are in place.

If you’re thinking this sounds like super, fun, edu-tainment with the added benefit of helping kids hone their reading comprehension and retention skills than you couldn’t be a bigger idiot. Did you miss the “parents as coaches” part? Hello, red flag of doom right there. Like many things that end badly this whole parents as book coaches seems like a decent enough volunteer gig. How hard can it be? You meet with the kids a couple of times a month, feed them a snack, discuss the books and bring on the battle.

Except that’s not how it goes down because being a book coach is a demanding job primarily because you have to read all the books. When I found this out I was stunned. I didn’t want to read some of these books 40 years ago and now not only was I required to read them, but I had to dissect them with a Machiavellian mindset. You see the battle questions are not so much about the story as they are about the most nitpicking details of the book like what color socks a character wore on page 83.

So, when you read the book you have to think about what questions will the Battle Chairperson/Judge ask (who usually is the most OCD member on the PTA board) and then make sure your team knows the answers. This is done by making question and answer sheets for each book. I naively suggested to other book coaches that we share our Q & A sheets that way we (the mothers) don’t have to read all the books. Holy paper cut, you would have thought I suggested that we start a swingers club. The outrage was that intense.

Maybe if I had known that some of these parents had been working on building their battle teams for years I would have kept my mouth shut. Little did I know that battle scouting starts in early elementary school. You’re not looking for the strongest readers, but the children with great memories. So, that kid on the field trip who won’t shut up about baseball stats from 1973 – that’s who want on your team. And if you hear a rumor of a child who might have the tiniest bit of an eidetic memory start your Battle of the Books wooing.

When it comes time for the battle the kids are just psyched to missing class, but for the book coaches it’s game on. These parents are locked and loaded. They know these books better than their child’s soccer schedule. It becomes not a combat between the kids and their novel knowledge, but a battle of wits between the parent coaches and the parent/book quizzer.  Armed with all the books highlighted and flush with Post It Notes the parent coaches are ready to challenge not only questions and answers, but the subtle nuances in the ways the queries are asked and the responses judged.

At this point it’s mom against mom and to the victor goes bragging rights because that’s what’s it’s about, right? A parent’s reading prowess. As I watched all this play out I thought to myself why don’t we just save ourselves a whole lot of time and trouble and just have one quickie meeting where we all share our SAT scores. It sure would be a whole lot simpler and the end result would be about the same.

*Attcover_1.3-2ention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂

12 thoughts on “Battle of the Books

      • AthenaC says:

        I wonder how much of it is driven by smaller family sizes. Seriously. Now, I’m not saying that smaller families are bad or that the net effect of smaller families on society as a whole is bad. I just think this is one of the things that can happen when you have one or two children – you have the time and energy to throw into these sorts of things. Whereas, for example, if you had six kids you wouldn’t have time for this bullshit. Just feeding them and clothing them would be all you could do. And praying to whatever deity you believe in that they don’t accidentally hurt / maim / kill themselves or others during one of those many moments that you couldn’t have eyes on them.

  1. Megan - Mom of 4 says:

    I think it’s because parents always make everything about them not the kids. Reading elementary grade level books shouldn’t be about the moms. It’s just cray. I have lived through almost every experience you write about. Sometimes you are the only thing keeping me sane. Keep it up Snarky. The world needs you!

  2. Denise P says:

    As a literature teacher this is a new one to me. Good God I hope it never comes here. What a way to kill the love of reading! UUGGHHH!!!!

  3. Kat says:

    For the uneducated or blessedly naive they must think you make this up. And yet having just ended ours it was if you were there. Just add gluten free food and a debate about “charms” that apparently both genders would die to collect… Or um be the biggest waste of resources… Thank you for helping me stay sane. – the un gifted parent in Green Bay WI

  4. A.PROMPTreply says:

    Ugh. Yes, Battle of the Books ONE of the worst things ever……right up there with Odyssey of the Mind and Lego Robotics. These are the war wounds of our parenting years…….

  5. Lacey says:

    Perhaps my child is just more skilled at hiding things from me than I realize, but she’s going on her second year of competing in BotB and I’ve never heard anything about parent participation. That would definitely add a layer of madness to what otherwise seems like a decent program designed to encourage the kids to read books they may not otherwise have given a chance. I’ll confess that I do read all of the books on the list, but I also read cereal boxes and at least reading the books gives me something I can actually talk to my kid about.

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