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Armed with books, students rejoin the battle

Tradition revived after two-year hiatus

Photos by Dianne Carroll Burdick

Thornapple Kellogg — Janis Fitzgerald was known throughout Middleville as a parent, jazzercise and yoga instructor and enthusiastic volunteer.

Page Elementary knew her as the founder of the Battle of the Books competition during March is Reading Month over 10 years ago.

Fitzgerald passed away in October 2021 after battling cancer for 17 years, but her legacy and love for reading lives on at Page. 

“Janis had a passion for the program and Page students,” elementary literacy coach Alison Muca said. “She created a fun, engaging experience before passing the battle on to a new group of parents in 2020.” 

Eighteen fourth- and fifth-grade students from Page Elementary made it to the final round of the Battle of the Books at Thornapple Kellogg High School

Muca described Fitzgerald as “dedicated to getting books in kids’ hands and minds”, while not adding extra work for the teachers.

“(Fitzgerald) not only organized the Battle of the Books every year at Page, but read every book included in the battles, picked up copies of books, wrote questions and served as a judge,” said Julie Makarewicz, Thornapple Kellogg Schools director of communications.

Earlier this year, Page Elementary students participated in a school-wide penny war to raise funds to build a sculpture in honor of Fitzgerald in downtown Middleville. They raised $1,812.46 to help meet the $4,500 goal. 

The Battle Resumes 

The annual Battle of the Books continued this year after two years off. It began with a list of books from which Page’s fourth-and fifth-graders read as many as they wanted, and chose the two they most connected with for the battle. 

While reading the books, students are encouraged to take notes and remember details about the story’s characters, setting and plot. 

“We use the same books mostly, but over the years we evaluate and add more titles that speak to all voices that we see in the world,” Muca explained. 

Towards the end of March, the students participated in a classroom competition, where they chose the two books they know best and answered questions about them. The questions started off as “surface-level softballs” and gradually became more difficult each round. 

The winners from each classroom then moved on to the final battle at the high school auditorium. 

The Final Showdown

At this year’s final, 18 classroom champions took turns answering questions at the microphone from the judges, Muca and Nikki Whitt. If they answered incorrectly, they took a seat in the back. 

Suspenseful music played in the background, breaking the silence with rumbling drums and pan flutes. 

‘We had a strong group of kids who knew their books and this was one of the first big events parents were able to attend this year.’

– literacy coach Alison Muca

Fourth-grade teacher Lindsey Meredith’s classroom winner Addington Workman felt excited about her first win and nervous about the final.

Though she didn’t win, Addington made it through 10 rounds of questions.

“I read all seven books and my favorites were ‘A Boy Called Bat’ and ‘Fish in a Tree,’” she said after her classroom’s battle. “I like reading books with stories about real life.”

The fourth- and fifth-grade Battle of the Books finalists on stage at Thornapple Kellogg High School: Front row from left: Ella Gary, Annaliese Irey, Jolynn Fletke, Shaddik Carpenter, Anna Boldt, Addington Workman; second row from left: Nevaeh Hochstetler, Matalie Underhill, Piper Compton, Marshall Rasey, Tate Kidder, Gehrig Burghardt; back row from left: Bryson Baraneck, Isabella Tolan, Brooklyn Bennetts, Alanah Dolly, Josie Raphael, Kinley Keyzer

After 17 rounds of questions, fourth-grader Jolynn Fletke went head-to-head against fellow fourth-grader Shaddik Carpenter for the final rounds. 

They both knew the answers to every question thrown at them, until Shaddik missed one. Jolynn, whose favorites were “Missing Mike” and “Fish in a Tree,” answered the last question correctly and became the Battle of the Books champion. 

The auditorium erupted in applause and Jolynn’s parents met her on stage, to hug her and give her a small bouquet of flowers to hold for a photo with her torch trophy. 

“This year’s battle went well,” Muca said. “We had a strong group of kids who knew their books and this was one of the first big events parents were able to attend this year.” 

A Surprise, Gooey Climax 

After the finalists finished taking photos, Bruno announced he had a special surprise in honor of Page students surpassing their reading goal of 500 books during the month of March. 

The curtain behind him opened revealing a small plastic kiddie pool filled with pudding. 

“I guess here we go!” Bruno exclaimed before the principals from Lee and McFall elementaries picked him up by his hands and feet and tossed him into the pool. 

Laughter and applause once again filled the auditorium before the teachers left one by one with their classes. 

After resurfacing, Bruno licked his hand and noted, “Mmm, butterscotch.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter covering Byron Center, Caledonia, Godfrey-Lee, Kenowa Hills and Thornapple Kellogg. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News, covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry, before finding her calling in education reporting and landing at SNN. Alexis is also the author of a poetry chapbook, “Learning to Sleep in the Middle of the Bed.”


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