Reading is the most important academic skill a student can acquire. If students can read, they can learn anything.
But just like anything else, if you want to be good at reading, you have to spend time doing it — and how better to practice and test your reading skills than with your friends?
Canyons District’s annual Book Blitz competition was created not only to build motivated readers, but to build a community of readers. Reading generally may bee a solitary activity. But Book Blitz, a Jeopardy-style contest where students must answer questions about the characters, settings, and plots of 12 books they’ve been challenged to read, is a community affair.
And here’s what’s super cool about it, says CSD library specialist Gretchen Zaitzeff: “This is a community that anyone can join. You don’t have to be tall. You don’t have to be super fast.”
You just have to be willing to crack open a book and see where it takes you.
More than 400 students this year were willing to take that leap and participate in CSD’s Book Blitz Jr. and Book Blitz contests. Organized by librarians and PTA volunteers, and made possible through donations from groups like the Sandy Rotary, the contest starts in November when students receive the competition book lists. Schools hold school-level competitions, and the winners of those advance to the District-level finals, which were held April 11-12, 2023.
Fourth and fifth grade students were challenged to read 12 books, and middle school students were given 20 titles. A surprising number of students choose to read every single book, some of them several times over.
In the middle school division, students who read all 20 books are invited to compete for the individual championship title. Mary Grant from Indian Hills Middle won this year’s contest, a repeat of last year’s win. She read all 20 books at least three times.
The middle-school team trophy went to Draper Park Middle’s “Reading by Dusk” team, who narrowly missed the trophy last year, according to their librarian Kylie Arbon who says all the credit goes to her students: Anna Stephens, Alina Vannlord, Yulia Brattos, and Maya Halvorsen.
While students are mentored and given strategies for committing small plot and character details to memory, “the students have to take all the initiative,” which promotes independence, Arbon said.
The competition also promotes teamwork and variety in reading. “They read books they don’t normally reach for,” Arbon said. “There are some they learn to love that they would have never picked up.”
Parents are appreciative of the opportunity for students to find new activities in which to excel. “At our school, there are kids who love reading. That’s what they do. They don’t compete in sports. And they were just so excited to have an opportunity to be able to compete in something they love to do,” said Katie Rowley, a parent volunteer from Alta View Elementary.
The contestants agree. Asked what they liked most about the competition, and most said it was the reading part.
“Reading is definitely as addicting as any TV show or anything,” said Thomas McCoy, a member of the winning elementary-division team, Sunrise Elementary’s “Word Ninjas.”
“That’s true,” agreed his teammate Rossteen Esfavjani. “If you read a book, it will take your Moms to say ‘breakfast, breakfast’ like ‘breakfast’ one million times before you come down.”
Building on the obvious enthusiasm from this year, Zaitzeff and her librarians are planning for next year’s Book Blitz. Students have already been asking about which books will be on the competition list, she says, so the District is making extra copies of the titles available through the Salt Lake County Library system this summer, including e-book and audio-book versions.
All those dreaming of winning next year’s competition can get a head start on bringing that dream to fruition.
After all, victory for the Word Ninjas — Liam Sharkey, Thomas McCoy, Rossteen Esfavjani, Marcus Liu, and Van Hewitt — was but a dream, until it was close at hand. Minutes before learning they had made it to the final round, Hewitt confided while gesturing to one of his teammates: “This man had a dream that we made it to the finals and won, so I’m going to hope that’s dejavu.”
So, keep dreaming, all you book readers! And reading, lots and lots and lots of books.