History of Battle of the Books

In 1986, a group of seven fifth and sixth graders in the Kenosha Unified School District’s Elementary Enrichment Program, identified a problem and set out to find a solution.  The problem: Kenosha’s elementary students should read more high quality books.  Their solution was to sponsor a citywide Battle of the Books Tournament for fourth, fifth, and sixth grade readers.  The Enrichment Program students planned, prepared, and conducted the first Battle of the Books Tournaments.  The premise of the tournament was that teams of students would read quality books and come together in friendly competition with everyone declared a winner because they all read good books and had fun testing their knowledge with questions about the books.  The tournaments were declared a success.  The Enrichment Program students accomplished their goal.  Little did the first group of students solving a problem realize the astonishing and long lasting success of their work. 

In the first years of the Battle of the Books Tournament, ten teams of ten students each participated in head-to-head battles answering questions from about 40 pre-selected books.  The tournament was held over two Saturdays at the Southwest Public Library.  Teams participated in elimination battles the first week and the winning teams battled again on the second Saturday with the highest scoring team crowned the winner.  As the number of participating teams increased, battles were moved to the Kenosha Unified School District’s Education Support Center and then to various elementary and middle schools until it moved to its current location at Nash Elementary School.

Team participation varied over the years.  Originally, the tournament was open to all Kenosha city public, private, and parochial schools.  After a few years and as the venue changed, Kenosha County schools were invited to participate.  Following the grade-level restructuring of the Kenosha public schools, eliminating sixth grade at the elementary level, Kenosha County schools formed their own Battle of the Books Program.   Battle of the Books began with ten teams, grew to over thirty participating teams (including Kenosha County Schools) and currently hosts twenty-two to twenty-five teams.

Other enhancements occurred over the years. 

·       Tournament Format      Tournament battles changed from elimination rounds, which limited how many times a team might compete, to an accumulative score college quiz bowl format guaranteeing each team ten opportunities to battle.  To provide equity in battles, in 2015, teams were divided into two tiers for competition.  Placement in tiers was based on team scores during the last three to five years of competition.  The same questions were used for both tiers and battle totals were used to determine the overall winners. 

·       Collaboration    When changes in the Enrichment Program occurred and the number of participating schools participating in Battle of the Books increased, Dr. Marilyn Ward and her education students began culling, selecting, and preparing the questions for the battles as well as moderating the ten battles.  Also at this time, the Kenosha Public Library became a contributing committee member.  In 2015, the University of Wisconsin-Parkside joined the Battle of the Books Committee.

·       Themed Booklists           In 2013, booklist were created around a theme (2014 - International, 2015 - America, and 2016 - Peace). 

·       Leadership         Over the years, the Battle of the Books leadership changed.  Nana LoCicero, originator and advisor to the Enrichment Program students, coordinated and facilitated Battle of the Books for eighteen years.  The Battle of the Books leadership was passed on to Susan Sheard, who along with the assistance of Dr. Marilyn Ward and Nana LoCicero, coordinated Battle of the Books until the spring of 2015.  Presently, Battle of the Books is coordinated by a team made-up of Susan Sheard, Christine O’Regan, and Ann Fredriksson of the Kenosha Unified School District, Dr. Marilyn Ward of Carthage College, Lisa Langsdorf of the Kenosha Public Library, Shauna Borger of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and Nana LoCicero, founder.

During the past thirty years, thousands of Kenosha’s children have read quality books and participated in friendly competition testing their knowledge of the books they read.  Many children beyond those who were selected for their school’s team read the books and helped their team mates prepare for battle.  The Kenosha Battle of the Books has been directly responsible for individual school and classroom battles, the Kenosha County Battle of the Books Tournament, and the Kenosha Unified School District’s Middle School Quiz Masters.  Kenosha elementary, middle and high school students now compete in a statewide Battle of the Books. 

While not original to Kenosha, Battle of the Books began as a Chicago radio program in the 1930’s.  It has spread across the country and is recognized as a successful reading program focused on connecting students with quality and challenging books.  

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