Zoya Saltonstall photo Nora Saltonstall, Scarlett Johnson and Stuey Saltonstall do some last-minute studying at the Kodiak Public Library (not pictured: Liam Danelski). St. Mary’s Battle of the Books team tied for 14th place out of 34 in the recent state competition.

8:30 a.m.: “Good luck, Battle of the Books team!” The St. Mary’s schoolmates cheer in unison off the porch. I’m picking up four students from the St. Mary’s third/fourth-grade class to go compete in their first ever Battle of the Books. The morning school assembly cheers the students on as competitors climb into my car.

8:45 a.m.: The St. Mary’s third/fourth-grade battle team arrives at the Kodiak College library conference room.For months they have been meeting, reading, studying, quizzing on a list of 13 books they’ll be questioned on. This experience is all new to them.St. Mary’s hasn’t had a battle of the books team for many years.

The room is set up with conference table, with speaker phone in the center and grown-up chairs surrounding it. The students try out the padded, wheeled chairs with big smiles on their faces.

Freshly homemade blubbery buckle, little cutie oranges and bottles of water sit in the corner table. The students grab books and do last-minute flipping through to get final details into their minds. The room is quiet. My digestive system gurgles and I have no appetite.

8:53 a.m.: Its audio conference time. We are supposed to do a practice call to make sure the line works. The kids watch nervously as I attempt to dial in.

First 9, then the number. Wrong. Abnoxious beeping tone. Try again.

Still wrong.Deep breaths, I tell myself, trying not to panic. I try to deny the fact that four months of preparations could be lost in a failed dial in to the audio conference. Our library support and fellow battle mom, Sara, arrives and tells us that prefix 8 will get us out of the phone system. It works. We’re in!

Amen! The kids looked relieved. I can breath again.

8:55 a.m.: Official dial-in time for Battle of the Books. We hear the voices of adult leaders and kids from all over the state across the speaker phone. Team names are being introduced. The Amazing Lynx, the Fuzzy Lumpkins (I’m still not sure what a lumpkin is), the Superreaders and our team, the St. Mary’s Bears, are all ready to go. All off in our various corners of the state, we’re coming together to see which team knows these books inside and out.

9:05 a.m.: After several minutes of rules, the battle begins. The first question is read by the moderator. Mute is activated on our phone so other teams can’t hear our discussion. The teams have 30 seconds to discuss the answer and write the question down on their paper. Every Battle of the Books question starts with, “In which book …” and the teammates scroll through their mental list of books to decide which best answers the question.

9:30 a.m.: The Kenai team challenges a question. A judge is called in on the conference to determine whether the challenge is granted. The case is presented and the battle judge grants the points. We all see first-hand that battle challenges can indeed be won.

A serving of moist blueberry buckle warms spirits and eases nerves.

9:50 a.m.: Halftime and stretch break. We are slightly behind the leading team, Kenai. There are lots of high fives and excitement at the questions the team got right and the possibility of sliding ahead of Kenai in the last rounds.

10:20 a.m.: It’s 10 questions later and tensions are high. After many missed points, we have fallen out of the top ranking. Only one team will be progressing to the next round, and it won’t be us. Just one question at a time, my co-leader Aileen reminds the team. Looks of despair come over their faces and I’m impressed with how Aileen’s encouraging words bring back their smiles.

10:50 a.m.: “What is the moral of Battle of the Books?” a student teammate asks. I understand his frustration, the time invested. Its not a question the parents can answer for them, but rather one they have to answer for themselves.

Perhaps the answer comes in the form of experiences, such as time together after school for many months, reading new books and now- sharing pizza afterwords at the large conference table. The kids gobble away, then go outside for a few minutes before heading back to St. Mary’s.

11:30 a.m.: On the drive back to school, the kids ask me when the books for next year will be announced. I look in my rear view mirror and they are 100 percent smiles in the back seat.

Kodiak resident Zoya Saltonstall is a physical therapist and mother of two. She loves warm cookies out of the oven.

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