An after-school activity at Thomas Jefferson High School prompted junior Ana Aguilar to read more than a dozen award-winning books beyond her required reading.
Aguilar is a member of the school’s Battle of the Books team, which challenges groups of high-schoolers to read 28 books that won one of several state and national awards for young adult novels.
Three local teams will compete April 28 in the Iowa High School Battle of the Books, which will be held in Marshalltown. The T.J. team will be joined by groups from Neola and Dunlap to represent southwest Iowa.
In addition to Aguilar, the T.J. Book Jackets team is made up of Adelin Arroyo, Keyla Deal, Kaylee Miller, Cate Nymann and Maddie Nymann. They are coached by Mary Newman, a teacher librarian at T.J.
Deal said the team members aren’t expected to read all of the books on the reading list, but they do make sure one or two of them read each title.
“We all just read what interests us the most,” she said.
Of the group, Aguilar has the most books read, with at least 14 — she’s not sure how many when asked, and her teammates suspect it’s closer to 18.
“It’s a group of students who get together,” she said describing the team, which has bonded around their common interests. “It’s a fun way to read.”
To compete, Miller said the students took two online tests – one based on the books and one that required memorization of the author’s names. The group actually misread one of the questions on the author portion, which is used as a tie-breaker, costing the team several places in the standings.
At the state contest, teams will compete in a trivia show format, with 10 seconds to confirm among themselves and answer questions. Miller will be the group’s speaker, and each team member has other designated roles.
Miller said she read two sports-related books, which she probably would not have otherwise picked, and really enjoyed “Sacred Acre: The Ed Thomas Story,” which was about the Parkersburg tornado. She said she could relate to it because of the tornado that hit Little Sioux a month later in 2008.
“The great thing about Council Bluffs is we’re both a small town and a city, so it was very relatable for us,” Miller said. “It’s a way to introduce (us) to some award-winning books.”
Another unlikely choice was Deal reading “Fair Coin” by E.C. Myers, which won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy from the Science Fiction Writers of America. She said she did enjoy the novel.
“I enjoy reading anything,” Deal said. “Depending on the story, it teaches you a different lesson.”
A team from Tri-Center High School in Neola will also travel to the state competition, along with a team from Boyer Valley High School in Dunlap.
Nyra Sondag, a junior high reading teacher at Tri-Center, said the high school’s team Famished for Fiction – made up of Amanda Rose Phillips, Nicole McPhillips, Christine Hess, Mackenzie Attkisson and Jessica Wulff – would be competing in the contest for the first time as a school.
“All of the students participated in the Southwest Iowa Middle School Battle of the Books when they were younger and wanted to continue challenging themselves as readers,” she said.
Boyer Valley also is competing in the contest for the first time.
Two groups of four students competed in the preliminary contest, with the Reading Titans – made up of Martha Sherwood, Rosa Nelson, Catherine Dublinske and Jarlin Arroyo – qualifying to attend the state battle.
Amber Terwilleger, a teacher at the school, said the Reading Titans finished 13th out of a field of 77 teams in the online contest. They will compete in an oral quiz against other students at the state contest, she said.
Other area schools fielding teams that didn’t advance to state included St. Albert in Council Bluffs as well as Underwood, Glenwood and Riverside.