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Bookmarks at dawn in the 23rd Annual Battle of the Books

Competitors confer in their teams at Santa Barbara County Battle of the Books
Caroline Feraday
Competitors confer in their teams at Santa Barbara County Battle of the Books

It’s a nail-biting competition between 4th to 6th graders in Santa Barbara County.

Two hundred and fifty 4th, 5th and 6th graders are limbering up to go into battle. They have been training all year for this. Armed only with their weapon of choice - bookmarks.

This is the 23rd annual Battle of the Books, here at the Santa Barbara County Education Office Auditorium under the watchful eye of Cate Tolnai, the Director of Digital Learning at SBC Education Office.

"They are coming here to work in a team with students from other schools," explained Tolnai. "What we did this year is we took this event and we divided it between North County and South County. So last week we hosted the same event in the North of the County."

The students come from 38 schools and met their team mates for the first time on Wednesday morning. But they’ve all prepared the same way - by reading 28 books - and now, they’ll be tested on their knowledge of the plots, characters and themes.

"So the judges are given questions randomly taken from the 28 books and they ask the students, 'in what book did blank happen,' or 'did a character say this' or 'did a setting look like this?' And the students have 30 seconds to talk as a team. There's the captain for each round who answers, and if they get it right, they get a chance to get more points by saying the author. And then if they don't get it right, the other team can steal and it goes back and forth," she explained.

For student Megan Molina, it's her first time at the competition.

"I'm really excited because it's really fun to do, and you get to read really great books and have fun with it. But I'm also kind of nervous because it's my first time," she said.

"It's really fun and it's really hard at the same time because you don't know anybody," said competitor and student Hannah Klemann.

"So you have to decide on something and you have to agree on everything and then decide and then not be rushed. And it's kind of hard as you don't know these people, so you don't know what they like and what they've read. And it's really fun to learn about them and find other people that you want to be with," said Klemann,

Three nail biting rounds culminate in a final Battle Royale between the top two teams and ultimately, crowning the winning team. But – says Tolnai, they are all winners.

"This is a year long commitment. So when we see our librarians and our library media specialists come, this is a labor of love for them as well, because they had to not only get these kids to commit to doing it, but really coach them and nurture them through the entire year. So this is kind of a penultimate celebration for everybody," she said.

"Yes, it's a battle, but really it's just a bunch of kids that love to read sitting in the same space for three hours, so it's great," said Tolnai.

The first place winners were called The One and Only Team 22 and featured students from Monte Vista, La Patera, Peabody Charter, Foothill and Santa Ynez Valley Charter schools.

Caroline joined KCLU in October 2020. She won LA Press Club's Audio Journalist of the Year Award in 2022 and 2023.

Since joining the station she's won 10 Golden Mike Awards, 5 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, 2 National Arts & Entertainment Awards and a Regional Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Writing.

She started her broadcasting career in the UK, in both radio and television for BBC News, 95.8 Capital FM and Sky News and was awarded the Prince Philip Medal for her services to radio and journalism in 2007.

She has lived in California for eleven years and is both an American and British citizen - and a very proud mom to her daughter, Elsie.