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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Popular middle school Book Blitz program teaches study skills, teamwork, builds community

Jun 30, 2022 06:49PM ● By Julie Slama

At the Canyons School District’s Book Blitz competition, Eastmont students discuss and answer a question about a book. (Julie Slama/City Journals)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

“White Bird.” “The False Prince.” “Wink.” “Game Changer.”

These and 16 other books are likely being read by middle-schoolers this summer as they prepare for Canyons School District’s Book Blitz this coming school year.

Since 2018, Canyons has offered its own book competition, allowing middle school students a chance to read books and as a team, recall titles and authors for points in a district-wide book competition. The team with the most points —two for each correct answer plus another for the author—wins.

The contest is similar to America’s Battle of the Books, which the district previously participated in, but then would substitute books to better fit their audience, said Eastmont librarian Sonia Miles. So now, under their own program, the titles are chosen by the middle school librarians and the district leader, Gretchen Zaitzeff.

“We decide as middle school librarians which books to use each year and come up with our own questions,” said Miles, who said that they purposely pick a variety of genres. “We want students to become more familiar with books that they normally wouldn’t read, and we try to choose a fair amount that have female and male characters and are on different reading levels. Then, we encourage students to read, take notes, utilize the digital notebook and Google classroom.”

The popularity of Book Blitz is evident as some of the eight middle schools have their own tournaments to identify the top teams to send to the district competition, and an individual contest was added.

At Albion, for example, more than 150 students participated in Book Blitz at the school level and 25 went on to compete individually at district, said librarian Bridget Rees.

In the coming year, there are discussions to start the program in elementary schools and also, possibly hold a staff and faculty contest as well, Miles said.

Teams can be creative with a team name or team shirt.

While this year Indian Hills’ Bananna Splits of and Union Middle School team led the other teams, Albion’s BMMMS and Penguins were close behind. There were book sets or trilogies for winning teams as well as individual books and medals for every district participant.

“In the very final round, it went into overtime and we had to have a final elimination round,” said Albion’s Rees. “I was super proud of not only my kids, but all of them. It’s a pretty big accomplishment to work on this all year long, reading books they may not have otherwise, taking practice quizzes, and working together.”

While students enjoy the competition aspect, Miles said it’s more than that.

For example, by using the digital notebook, students are able to take notes on characters, themes and major plot points to help them understand and remember the books they read as well as develop study skills and help in their English-Language Arts courses, she said.

They also are learning how to interact and support one another while enjoying reading for pleasure, Miles said.

“The thing that I love about it is our schools focus on small groups and with having four or five in the group, they keep each other accountable,” she said. “They work together; it builds unity. It builds a love for reading and a reading community. They tell their friends about these books they read.”

The Midvale Middle Narwhals said they read books that they may not have checked out otherwise.

Seventh-grader Ella Wood liked “Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus” and sixth-grader Quinn Profsky liked “The Last Day of Mars.” “The characters were realistic, and it was action-packed, so the plot kept going. I got into it.”

While seventh-grader Makoto Robinson said he already was friends with everyone on the team, others met one another and bonded as a team, seventh-grader Makenzie Dwyer said.

Some teams split up the reading, so each team member read four or five books. Other teams accelerated, each member reading all or almost all the titles.

Eastmont’s Chimeckos split up the reading, said sixth-grader Keegan Hutchinson. Sixth-grader Sophia Livinston read all the books and said some others on the team also read a few more than they were assigned and reviewed book summaries.  

Eighth-grader Michael liked “A Night Divided.” “It was interesting to learn about the Berlin Wall and how it divided families and about a girl trying to escape.”

Seventh-grader Annika Goaslind learned more about events in New York and Afghanistan with “Ground Zero.”

“It really interested me to learn more recent history and ask more about it,” she said.

Mt. Jordan’s Fantasy Figures seventh-grade teammates Priya Davies and Rosemary Diamond read all the books, while seventh-grader Kaylie Call read all, but a couple. The three girls began their reading for the last competition a few months prior and then would sit together at lunch to quiz one another on the books.

“I’m a really big bookworm, so I’ll probably start next year’s reading this summer,” Rosemary said at this past spring’s competition.

Penguins member Abby Eliason was excited to be on her team.

“I like to read and really liked the ‘The War That Saved My Life,’” the sixth-grader said. “It was a well-written story. Book blitz is a fun challenge.”

Her librarian said that the best part is that kids are excited about reading and participating about Book Blitz.

“It’s not always easy to get kids excited about reading, so when I see kids whooping and hollering, like they’re at a basketball game, and having so much fun over books, it’s wonderful,” Rees said. “The kids are having a blast reading.”

Albion sixth-grader Amelia Black, bonded not only with her best friend over Book Blitz, but also with reading.

“When I joined, I didn’t really like to read and now I love it,” she said. “There