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Read on! Eagle Tech's Battle Of The Books

By Quinnton Collison -- Eagle Staff Writer

At first, it looks more like a courtroom than a classroom: teams of students stand confidently at podiums, delivering opening statements, carefully constructing arguments, providing evidence, and carefully dismantling the opposition. Sometimes they are loud, forceful, even a bit heated, but they never lose sight of their ultimate goal: to make the best case they can for their client and win.

And who is their client? A young adult novel. Because this isn't a courtroom or criminal justice course. This is an English class, and this is the Battle of the Books.

So what exactly is a Battle of the Books? It's the brainchild of English teacher Kayla Messenger. Messenger wanted her English 9 students to participate in book studies but in a more meaningful way than just reading and writing essays. She created a competition where groups of students choose a book and go into a head to head competition with another group and their book, in a bracket-like competition with multiple rounds to determine whose book is best. Each group presents their book to the other groups and the audience in a debate-like scenario, with time limits and specific goals for each round. Each group had to not only make the case for their book being best, but also defend their book against criticism from other groups. This means all participants have to not just know their own book well, but know a bit about the other books in the competition as well.

The books in this battle were The Hate U Give, Ghost, and Such a Fun Age. The Hate U Give is about an African American teenage girl whose friend is shot by a police officer. During the duration of the book she is trying to decrease the amount of racism that she finds all around her - even on social media. She tries to spread awareness that Black lives matter in her school and community while also dealing with ongoing anxiety and other internal struggles.

"Such a Fun Age" focuses on Emira, a 26-year-old trying to navigate adulting and racial tensions at the same time. (Photo by Quinnton Collison)

Ghost is about a young teenage guy who goes by the name of Ghost. He is kind of a loner and keeps mainly to himself at the beginning of the book. He has a lot of anxiety and stress in his life because of his family situation, but he discovers the track team, which helps him begin to cope with his world.

Such a Fun Age is about a young African American girl who is a babysitter to a White family and is accused of kidnapping one of the children she babysits. She wants to pursue legal actions but she is unsure about doing so. She's torn between the job she loves and her own well-being.

According to participants, reading their books was just the beginning of the battle. They soon found that people in the same group often did not understand or interpret the book in the same way. “Some of us saw something bad in a quote and some of us saw something good in something else…but we worked together and tried to figure [out] as much as we could, how to bring it all together, how to make sense [for] people who haven't heard/read the book, ” said Yasseni Torres, a student in the class.

Also some students were faster readers than others, and of course, there's the challenge of absenteeism. Bethany Conner, one of the book battlers, stated,  “Some of the challenging things that happened is we all got sick at one point so we all had to figure out a way to communicate when one of us wasn't here.”

"The Hate You Give" prompted deep conversations about discrimination and violence. (Photo by Quinnton Collison)

All of this is part of the plan, Messenger explained. "The battle of the books serves two purposes. The goal of the project is to see if they know how to analyze a book and know what is good, and it avoids having to do a book report. It's a more in-depth way for the students to analyze the books and tell me what they know about the book without having to write an essay about it,” says Messenger, who also serves as book battle referee.

Messenger says there’s another reason for studying novels this way. “It also gives them motivation to do it. Kids love to debate, they love to argue, they love to go against one another... This is a way to get the information in an engaging way for them.”

Messenger explained that the book battle also checks lots of boxes related to career skills.  “[The battle] also gives them the presentation skills that they may need for the future. We know that in future careers you may have to speak in front of a lot of people. One of our goals in Eagle Tech is to focus on the skills - work skills, communication skills and community skills - that people need.” 

Conner agreed that the project emphasized communication. “Through our communication we were able to communicate with each other and figure out how to explain the book and how to explain the issues, positive and bad.”

"Ghost" shows how we can sometimes find a home in the unlikeliest places. (Photo by Quinnton Collison)

The project requires both the students and the teacher to give it their all to put on an effective book battle, friendly as the competition may be. Messenger believes it's all worth it. “The best part of this experience is when you get to see the outcome. You get to see their debate, get to see what they have come up with and how they against each other as a group, how they work together as a group. That is the best part of this."

Messenger says the feedback indicates it's worth it for the students, too. "It is a long tedious process but by the time it's over everyone is enjoying the project. They are like, 'This was really fun” and "It was a really good project.”

If you would like to read any of these books, you can find them in the FCHS school library. If you'd like more information about Eagle Tech classes, see your guidance counselor or see Ms. Messenger in Tech A Room 241.

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