The Newbery Quiz Bowl began Thursday with bookworms from 13 Hawaii Island schools huddled around tables, collaborating in hurried whispers.
The fourth- through sixth-graders were stymied with a question pertaining to “Shiloh,” a children’s novel by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. They were asked to write down the hardest job Marty, a young boy, had to do to win the title character, an abused dog.
After several seconds of sometimes very animated and spirited debate, answers were submitted. Some students beamed with confidence. Others sat in nervous anticipation. One by one, flags were raised at each table, revealing the five-member teams’ responses. This time, unfortunately, the red flags outnumbered the green — most teams used improper punctuation and spelling or did not know Marty split wood.
As the two-hour competition progressed inside a Hapuna Beach Prince Hotel ballroom, the jitters dissipated and the waving of green flags was more common. The participating students repeatedly proved they had superior knowledge of the works of 40 authors, all of whom won the Newbery Medal — the most prestigious award in children’s literature. They excelled so much that there was a grueling tiebreaker round, which lasted nine questions.
In the end, the Hawaii Island Christian Home Educators team triumphed, taking first place and the perpetual trophy, as well as earning a Body Glove Hawaii cruise. The Konawaena Elementary School team earned second place, the Holualoa Elementary School team got third and the Hawaii Preparatory Academy finished fourth. The teams also won prizes from businesses, community organizations and other supporters.
Vyas Hale, an 11-year-old Holualoa Elementary fifth-grader, described the Newbery Quiz Bowl as “really awesome and so cool.” He thinks the event “motivates kids to read well-written, enjoyable, inspiring books instead of junk.” What he enjoys most about the Newbery Medal-winning books are how the authors often “create touching, deep feelings or thoughts when you read them” and “there’s a wide variety of genres that anyone can connect to.”
Hale said he’s proud of his team and mentioned how well they worked together throughout the competition. To prepare, the Holualoa Elementary team met three hours after school three days a week, as well as occasionally during lunch and with the librarian. Instead of stressing about what the outcome would be, Hale said they focused on doing their best, which meant staying focused and confident even through the stressful tiebreaker round.
Jaymie Kunitomo was initially shocked upon hearing the results because it never occurred to the 11-year-old Konawaena Elementary fifth-grader that her team would place so high. Throughout the competition, she said her team often argued right up to the ringing of the bell, which signaled time was up, about what the correct answer was.
Kunitomo attributed the team’s performance to the hard work and dedication members put into reading and studying the books. Another factor, she said, was believing in each other.
The Newbery Quiz Bowl is the only reading contest of its kind in the state, and for many, their love for reading truly blossoms by participating, said Paula Kamiya, event co-chairwoman.
Julia Tao, event co-chairwoman and a former Kalanianaole Elementary & Intermediate School librarian, said she started the competition 24 years ago to encourage children to read quality books, motivate them to continue reading and inspire them to become lifelong readers. The contest also celebrates the joy of reading, as well as provides a day of fun and games.
Tao said the competition shows not only that the students read the books, but really understood the material and can discuss it. “Reading without understanding is like eating with no digestion or no nutrition,” she added.