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Contest builds love of reading for Plum elementary students

| Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The biggest game in professional football typically is played in early February.

But the big game for fifth- and sixth-graders in the Plum School District is Oct. 23, the night of the annual Battle of the Books competition.

“It is the Super Bowl of reading,” Center Elementary Principal Jeff Hadley said. “The atmosphere is exciting. The kids are cheered on, and it's a celebration.”

The event is scheduled for 7 p.m. in the Plum High School gymnasium.

The competition started a little over a decade ago, according to Vicki Dziewulski, librarian at Adlai Stevenson, Holiday Park and Regency elementary schools.

Students form their own teams — each with four to six students — and read 12 books beginning in the summer before the competition, Dziewulski said. She and Sue Kelly, librarian at Center and Pivik elementary schools, select the books. The two librarians also organize the annual event.

Each team also selects an adult sponsor, Dziewulski said. The children throughout the next few months meet and discuss the stories and quiz each other on facts in the books.

The students sit with members of their individual teams on the night of the competition. Each team is asked two questions per book. They also must know the authors. The teams receive four points for a correct answer. One point is given for knowing each book's author, Dziewulski said.

The scores are tallied at the end of the competition. Dziewulski said each student on the teams that place first, second and third receive a trophy, as do their schools.

Dziewulski said the program has grown in popularity with about 15 teams initially and 70 teams this year. She said nearly half of the district's fifth- and sixth-graders participate in Battle of the Books.

Dziewulski said the program serves to get kids excited about reading. Also, participating in Battle of the Books helps sharpen students' skills in the areas of vocabulary, identifying the mood and theme as well as comprehension.

Family members and friends support the students on the competition night.

“The gym is filled,” Dziewulski said.

“It is important that we remember to cheer kids on with academics,” Hadley said.

Angela Valotta, 11, a sixth-grader at Center Elementary, is participating in Battle of the Books for a second year.

“I'm excited about the list of books,” she said.

Angela said she enjoys the teamwork and becoming a better reader.

“I'm excited for that (competition) night,” she said.

Noah Sofran, 11, a sixth-grader at Adlai Stevenson Elementary, said his team, the Reading Ninjas, decided to read the assigned books two times this year to try to improve upon the third-place finish last year.

“We are trying to get higher,” Noah said. “I was really nervous the first time (last year's competition), but I calmed down and had a lot of fun doing it.”

Regency Park Elementary PTA President Tracey Simqu looks forward to the team building that Battle of the Books affords students.

“This is a great program which makes reading fun and teaches students to work together as a team,” Simqu said.

“In my opinion, (Battle of the Books) is one of the best events that goes on in Plum Borough,” said Kristin Sofran, Adlai Stevenson Elementary PTA president.

“There is a lot of emphasis on sports team competitions. When it is done, all kids are reading and are better for it.”

Karen Zapf is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8753, or

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