The gymnasium erupted in cheers again and again March 1 as three teams—the Chinchillas, the Picky Readers and the Kabakes—vied for the opportunity to face off against a team of staff members.

Their goal? To win the Battle of the Books.

Beginning in November, Hockinson Middle School students created 21 four- to six-person teams and started reading two dozen books. At least two members per team were expected to read every title—“so everyone can talk about all of the books,” said organizer and library media specialist Sandra Stroup.

Throughout February, mini-battles began in the cafeteria: Teams faced off to answer questions such as, “In what book did the family go to Birmingham for summer vacation?” Or “In what book do the two main characters and Grandma go to the county fair?”

They won points by being first to answer with the title and author.

“We’re trying to get kids to think of reading as an alternative form of pleasure,” Stroup said. “Research shows good reading skills make a big difference in career and college readiness, and this inculcates attitudes in young people—creates a little circle of friends who read books, so kids think, ‘I can go and chat with my friends about it.’”

The plan seemed to work. By the end of the program, the middle school gymnasium was filled with students excited about who knew the most about the stories.

“It caused me to read more,” said seventh grader Ashley. “It’s really fun. I like how it’s really competitive, and you can work with your team members to study together.”

Next year Stroup hopes students will create video trailers introducing each book.

“I love these kids and am so excited to see them get passionate about reading,” Stroup said.

The program was funded in part with a $1,000 grant from iQ Credit Union. (And for those of you keeping score, the Stupendeous Staff beat the Picky Readers in the final competition.)