SOUTH FORSYTH — As two groups of four third-graders put their heads together — literally and figuratively — to decide what book a judge had asked a question about, their parents sat nearby.
The adults held their breath as the answer was given and gave a visible sigh of relief as the kids were affirmed.
This scene Tuesday night played out in classrooms throughout Haw Creek Elementary, where 15 schools competed in the fourth annual Battle of the Books.
Tensions may have been highest, however, in the media center as the rest of the parents, teachers and students — all dressed in team T-shirts, from tie-dye to neon yellow, and some decked out in costumes — waited in the cafeteria while a tiebreaker was settled.
Teams from Haw Creek and Kelly Mill elementary schools went a full first round with 24 questions and a second round that ended in sudden death after 19 questions before a second- and third-place winner were determined.
Excitement for the Kelly Mill Superstars. Disappointment for the Haw Creek Word Thieves. Both were defeated by Shiloh Point’s Reading Men, who took home the top prize for third-graders.
Teams combining fourth- and fifth-graders competed in a separate category.
Throughout the school year, participants were given 20 to 30 specific books to read at home. School-level battles took place earlier in the year, where teams had to correctly identify the book and author based on a plot or character question.
“In what book does the main character say, ‘Count you I must, and count you I will’?” a judge asked, giving points if the team answered with “Tricking the Tallyman” by Jacqueline Davies within 30 seconds.
“Shiloh Point readers read a little over 4,000 books,” said Tanya Cheeves, a Horizons teacher at the school.
School winners represented their classmates at the countywide battle Tuesday, with the winning team giving the most correct matches.
“There may be titles on the list that students are more reluctant to read. This year it was ‘Redwall’ by Brian Jacques,” Cheeves said. “It was just an extremely long novel that did not interest many students, especially the girls. We started a book study on this particular book and really got the students pumped about reading it.
“The students ended up loving the book, and many have gone on to reading the entire series.”
At Haw Creek, 18 teachers volunteered once a month as mentors for the school’s two teams to monitor their progress, according to Christi Phillips, a gifted teacher.
They made flash cards, talked about the authors and encouraged them through books they may not have found interesting.
“There were genres not every kid likes to read, but we tried to really get them to not judge a book by its cover,” said Phillips, who organized the event.
As students walked up to each room, they were fascinated by the doors’ elaborate decorations, made by Phillips, which transformed classrooms into the world of Harry Potter.
“Our next room is the Chamber of Secrets!” one competitor said as he led his teammates.
“It instills teamwork, and it improves their love for reading,” said Phillips of the competition.
Carrie Hilliard, media specialist at Haw Creek, said the program prompts students to read both new titles and “high-quality literary books.”
Ansley Morrison, a member of the older Haw Creek team called the Ferocious Felines, has been involved in the program since third grade. She said she looks forward to meeting the goal and even finished a month before the deadline.
“I liked ‘Love, Ruby Lavender’ by Deborah Wiles because she always has different funny moments, like she has baby chicks,” she said.
“She’s already on the second round of reading them,” said her mother, Dana Morrison, as she and three teammates continued talking about the book.
Morrison’s father, Dave Morrison, said the program teaches teamwork and “helps them bond with each other.”
Abbie Valone said she also liked ‘Love, Ruby Lavender’ the best because “I like that it’s funny.”
Audrey Patdett said her favorite book was “Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library” by Chris Grabenstein because “it’s like a puzzle, and I like puzzles.”
Another fan favorite was “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate, a book based on the true story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who was eventually adopted by Zoo Atlanta.
“It’s a sweet book because he lived in a cage and liked animals and wanted to help them, and he does some of the best things for them. Like remember when he saves the baby elephant?” Kennedy Arnette asked her friends.
Arnette said the competition is “fun and exciting, and at the county one we really want to win.”
It must not have been luck that put the winning trophies in their hands, because they topped Shiloh Point’s Reading Wizards and Big Creek’s Book Smashers to take first place.