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Ford column: Nellie joins the Battle

Nellie never enjoyed reading, which always perplexed me.
Bright girl, curious, loves school, but never a big reader.
While other kids devoured the latest Harry Potter book, she read the bare minimum to complete her homework and usually not a word more.
Not even Junie B. Jones could compel her to read, and if Nellie has a literary twin, it’s that mischievous, dramatic, funny Junie B. She started several of these books but only finished one or two.
When Nellie entered the fourth grade this year, I encouraged her to participate in a countywide reading contest called Elementary Battle of the Books. I thought the promise of a “battle” would lure my competitive daughter into the wonderful world of books, a world I’ve enjoyed for years and wanted her to love as well.
But the more I pushed, the more she resisted. She bucked. She bemoaned. She actually bawled.
Finally, I gave up. Team members must read 12 fairly lengthy books, and Nellie had run out of time.
The next week, she came home and announced, “Mom, I’ve got good news. Guess what? I’m going to do E-BOB.”
You know when your kid “remembers” at 8 p.m. that he or she must construct a replica of the Parthenon with popsicle sticks and graham crackers, due the next morning?
This was kind of like that.
Most of the kids were on their fourth or fifth book. Nellie had read none, except for listening to “Charlotte’s Web” several years ago.
Several of the novels were pretty challenging. “A Strong Right Arm: The Story of Mamie ‘Peanut’ Johnson” tackled discrimination. “Soft Rain” told the horrific story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears. “Hatchet” followed a boy trying to survive alone in the wilderness after a plane wreck.
A couple of books featured a character dealing with a disabled sibling. In “Rules,” each chapter title is another regulation that 12-year-old Catherine creates for her autistic brother David.
“No toys in the fish tank.” “A boy takes off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts.” “Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.”
Determined, Nellie read about one book a week for three months, on top of her other homework and activities. I beamed.
The Koontz E-BOB team practiced every day, hoping to defend their surprising titles from last year, when they were county and regional champs.
Nearly every Rowan-Salisbury elementary school participated in the nail-biting, four-hour contest at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. During 17 rounds, judges asked questions and students took turns responding which book they believed contained the answer.
Most schools had fourth and fifth graders competing, but Koontz couldn’t field a team with just upper grades and used second and third graders as well.
We finished fifth, just 5 points behind the schools tied for third. The impressive Cleveland team took home the top prize.
Disappointed but resolute, Nellie announced that she would join the team next year and try to read every book twice. I tried not to overreact, for fear I’d change her mind, but I was jumping for joy inside.
The next day, she brought home not one but two new novels from the library.
She’s already on page 62.
nnn
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.

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