Spending much of the past summer and winter with their noses tucked into an assortment of books has paid off for two teams of local bookworms.

Spending much of the past summer and winter with their noses tucked into an assortment of books has paid off for two teams of local bookworms.

Students from Walker Elementary School in Ashland and Sacred Heart Catholic School in Medford took first place in their divisions during a regional Battle of the Books competition earlier this month. They will compete at the state level on April 12.

Four students from Walker Elementary, who took first place in the third- through fifth-grade division, said their winning strategy was reading, rereading and rereading again.

The five-girl team at Sacred Heart, competing for the third year in Battle of the Books, credited good old-fashioned hard work and a thick stack of flashcards with their victory.

A voluntary program sponsored by the Oregon Association of School Libraries, Oregon Battle of the Books is geared at encouraging reading comprehension and teamwork among students in third through 12th grades. The competition consists of answering questions about the books students read.

Walker team members included Ellis and Reed Pryor, Thea Meyers, Mia Rollins and alternate Julian Lull, with teacher Dylana Garfas-Knowles serving as coach.

Walker Elementary fifth-grader Mia Rollins, 10, said her team practices "every weekend and sometimes on the weekdays, too" in order to prepare for the "battle."

"We at least practiced two or more times every week, so we were really happy to win," she said.

"This was our third year in Battle of the Books, so we worked really hard."

Some of the titles included "Clementine," by Sara Pennypacker; "Dear Mr. Henshaw," by Beverly Cleary; "The birchbark House," by Louise Erdrich; "Who Was Neil Armstrong?" by Roberta Edwards; and "Inside Out & Back Again," by Thanhha Lai.

Brothers Reed and Ellis Pryor, both 11, said they were proud of their team for being well prepared.

Ellis Pryor said preparation for Battle of the Books gave him "stronger reading skills" and better attention to story details.

Reed Pryor said winning was an added bonus.

"We were really well prepared and we practiced really hard every single week. I don't think the other teams practiced as much as we did, but I was still really surprised we won," said the boy.

"The best part is that now, whenever I read books, I'll take in a lot more detail and really get more from the story I'm reading."

Sacred Heart's team, made up of sixth- and seventh-graders, included Grace Bryan, Abbey Hageman, Sophie Hetzel, Ophelia Sands and Renee Stockton. Volunteer coach for Sacred Heart was Michelle Stockton, with teacher Susie Schweitzer serving as adviser.

Renee Stockton, a seventh-grader who served as captain for Sacred Heart's team, said her team enjoyed the selection of books and merely "hoped to do well."

"I think we expected to do well before it even started, but I think we were a little bit surprised when we actually won because there are so many good teams and everyone worked so hard," said the 13-year-old.

Some of the titles in their division included "Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick," by Joe Schreiber; "Copper Sun," by Sharon M. Draper; "Everybody Sees the Ants," by A.S. King; "Every Day," by David Levithan; and "The Pregnancy Project," by Gaby Rodriguez.

Abbey Hageman, 12, credited the team's performance to practice, flash cards and a willingness to "read the same books over and over."

"Our team member Grace (Bryan) made a really thick handful of flash cards that were pretty hard, and those really helped us. We quizzed ourselves on them until we got all but two right," said the sixth-grader, noting that — win or not — the experience was fun.

"I think we're going to go for it at state, but even if we just get second or third, we would be happy. The best part of this was that we got to read a lot of really, really good books."

To learn more about Battle of the Books, see http://oboblsta.pbworks.com/w/page/5653620/FrontPage.

Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.