Book It!


Beach Elementary Defends Book Battle Title

Last May a half-dozen students from the Fort Myers Beach Elementary School bested 35 other Lee County Elementary Schools to win the 2015 Battle of the Books competition. On Friday, May 27, a new group of 3rd through 6th graders, with a few returning veterans, will defend that title.

America’s Battle of the Books is a voluntary reading incentive program for students in 3rd through 12th grades, with the elementary contest for students from the 3rd to 6th grade. Students read 14 selected books from the Sunshine State Young Readers Award novel list, then test their knowledge in the Lee County Districtwide Competition. This will be at the Lee County Public School Education Center at 2855 Colonial Boulevard on Friday, May 27, from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. The Suncoast Credit Union Foundation sponsors the competition and you can watch it via live streaming at

Lori Zamniak (L) and Kim West assist Beach School’s Book Battle group members.
Lori Zamniak (L) and Kim West assist Beach School’s Book Battle group members.

Lori Zamniak, Fort Myers Beach Elementary School 3rd grade teacher, and volunteer coordinator Kim West lead the Battle of the Books team that has 13 students, including a 2nd grader. “We began with 27 children, but attrition sets in,” Kim says. “Our 13, however, are still more than most schools who often have just enough to fill the six slots plus one alternate. We basically field a varsity and junior varsity.”

Rules require that teams but not each team member read all 14 books, so most kids only consume 2 or 3, basically becoming specialists. “We take our children a step further,” explains Kim. “Each reads all 14, or roughly 3,000 pages – that is serious reading and a remarkable achievement. The Beach Elementary Parent Teacher Organization made books available to every participant, a financial contribution most schools cannot match. Within the next year or two we hope to offer electronic versions of the books.”

Fabiola Sigala is back to help defend the school title, and is team captain. “We start all the way back in September and go through the whole school year,” she says. “It was so great to win it last time that there really isn’t anything bad about it. We have fun and really learn to like to read.”

Lori says the challenge “encourages kids to read above their level. In the Internet Age, we probably read more than any previous generation, so if you are an excellent reader it positively affect you the rest of your life.”

The Beach Elementary Book Battle team is done reading and is now practicing. Kim and Lori host “mini Book Battle” competitions, pitting the varsity against the junior varsity. They provide helpful pointers, while the kids work out conflicts in groups by communicating together with respect. Sessions mimic the actual competition, with Sunshine State Young Readers Award-approved questions, using the same button-response units as they will on May 27. These classes are equal parts education, team-building and positive reinforcement.
The kids quickly catch the competitive spirit: smiles and giggles at the beginning of the 40 practice questions quickly give way to quiet determination and thoughtful discussion. Fabi proves an excellent captain, constantly corralling all players to make sure everyone has a voice, with Kim and Lori encouraging her leadership skills. Kim cautions to “not tip your hand. When you hear the possible answers, don’t shake your head ‘No’ when you hear an incorrect one, or ‘Yes” for the right one. You did your work so you deserve the credit; don’t accidently give the right answer to another team who may not have read the book but can read your body language.” Lori tells them to “stay focused, huddle together to hear everyone’s opinions but speak quietly so other teams do not hear and include everyone in your discussion.”
An excellent example occurs when the junior varsity provided an inaccurate answer, but Kim heard the right response from one team member; the 2nd-grade girl who is the youngest member, and the others did not listen. Kim asked her how many of the books she read and the 2nd grader replied “all of them!” Kim reinforced why it is important to hear from and respect each person: “There will be times when the youngest or smallest is your strongest contributor.”

When the teams answer correctly, Lori calls out to pat themselves on the back; when they are not, Kim reminds that even in a wrong response, you learn the correct one, so that is an opportunity to learn. Every comment from Kim and Lori is positive.

beach elementary, book battle
The 14 books Fort Myers Beach Elementary School Battle of the Books students read for the competition — 3,000 pages all together!

The winning team will receive medals for each participant, a trophy and iPad for the school, and a set of the 14 books for the school. Suncoast Credit Union Foundation as sponsor will for the first time provide cash awards to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Place teams. For additional information, contact Karen Serrell at 239-461-8440 or see
When it comes to the 2016 Lee County School District Battle of the Books, the Fort Myers Beach Elementary School is a serious threat to defend its title, and you can book it!

Gary Mooney
Photos by Gary Mooney