“It’s like sports but with books!”: A tournament where readers are the MVPs

POCATELLO — Parents, fans, and supporters packed the bleachers Tuesday night at Franklin Middle School. But they weren’t there to watch a basketball game or wrestling match.

They were there for a reading competition. 

“It’s like sports but with books!” flyers for the event read. 

Known as the Idaho Battle of the Books, or IBOB, the statewide event seeks to motivate young readers and provide a platform for their joy of books. 

It was the first year the event was held in Pocatello, and teams from across town convened to battle for the Region 5 championship. To get that gleaming trophy, each team strove to correctly answer 20 questions about 10 books they had read in a gameshow-style format. 

Just as a point guard would be cheered for hitting a jump shot, the crowd roared when competitors correctly recalled details from a series of books. Fans called out encouragement from the stands, clapped, and waited with bated breath while answers were reviewed. 

Fans watch fifth-grade teams compete in the IBOB competition.
A team brainstorms answers during the competition.
A team holds up their answer at the IBOB competition.

The event was Librarian Megan Anderson’s brainchild. 

Since first seeing a program like it in Oregon 15 years ago, Anderson dreamed of bringing it to Idaho kids. Then, in 2016, Boise librarians did just that. And seven years later, Anderson brought IBOB to fruition in her own school district. 

She’s already seen the magic the program has spread — parents reading more with their kids; a teacher inspired to start an elective course preparing kids for next year’s IBOB; two students from different states connecting because of a shared love for BOB. 

Librarian Megan Anderson spearheaded the event and hopes to make it a yearly tradition.

“Connections build community,” Anderson said. “This is exactly what the essence of a library is and why they are so valuable … Libraries hold stories from all over, allowing readers to empathize with characters, expand their world, and connect with others.”

“Connections build community. This is exactly what the essence of a library is and why they are so valuable … Libraries hold stories from all over, allowing readers to empathize with characters, expand their world, and connect with others.” — Megan Anderson, librarian and event organizer

The tournament included competitions for students in 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. The teams had been preparing since January, giving up their recess time to practice with the guidance of their librarians-turned-coaches. 

They read and discussed books, and practiced reviewing titles, author’s names, and plot details with flashcards. For the fourth-grade teams Tuesday night, all that effort seemed to pay off. 

Three teams were narrowed to two that were tied by the end of the 20 questions. They went into not one — not two — but eight rounds of tie-breaking questions before Edahow Elementary’s team pulled ahead for the win.

Judging by the looks on their faces, the hard work was worth it. 

The fourth grade district champions from Edahow Elementary react to their win.
The fourth-grade champs were delighted to hear they won after going into eight tie-breaking rounds of questions.

After winning the 4th grade tournament with her team, Ellie Waford celebrated with her family and reflected on why she got involved. 

“I felt like it would be a challenge that would help my education,” she said. 

Celebrating first place at Pocatello’s first annual regional IBOB tournament. Ellie Waford is second from left.

Her coach, Melanie Harrison, is the librarian at Edahow. She said Ellie’s team — the IBOB Dogs — earned the chance to participate in regionals after winning the school-wide competition against three other fourth-grade teams. 

Between her fourth and fifth grade teams, about 32 students participated in all. 

At first, the competitors weren’t excited about the seemingly-outdated classic books they were required to read for the tournament. But, once they finished them, they changed their tune. 

“This is my new favorite book,” they often said. 

Even though coaching the teams was a lot of extra work for Harrison, she said seeing the love of reading and the camaraderie the teams built was worth it. 

“It was such a huge benefit,” Harrison said. “To have a sport for readers was amazing.”

The victors fist-bumped the other competitors, much like at the end of a basketball game.
Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro

Carly Flandro reports from her hometown of Pocatello. Prior to joining EdNews, she taught English at Century High and was a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. She has won state and regional journalism awards, and her work has appeared in newspapers throughout the West. Flandro has a bachelor’s degree in print journalism and Spanish from the University of Montana, and a master’s degree in English from Idaho State University. You can email her at [email protected] or call or text her at (208) 317-4287.

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