The elementary school students competing in the Gainesville Reading Bowl gripped their buzzers, anxiously awaiting the next question.
Donned in team polos and T-shirts, students demonstrated facets of their literary knowledge: in the novel "Countdown," Uncle Ott tries to dig a bomb shelter in the front yard; the character, Jeffery, has leukemia in the book "After Ever After;" and in the novel "Return to Sender," characters work on a friend's family farm.
The books on which students were quizzed came from the 2011 Georgia Book Award Nominees, which also included "The Hunger Games" and "Old Cemetery Road: Dying to Meet You."
The Gainesville High School cafeteria was packed with students, parents, teachers and siblings, all cheering on the bowl teams from Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy and Centennial Arts Academy.
Erin Rassel, 10, a fifth-grader at Fair Street, said Enota, which previously made it to the state competition, was the team to beat.
She was right; Enota won and will advance to the regional competition in February. Centennial came in second and Fair Street was third.
"Everyone worked real hard. Even though everyone didn't get to play, we couldn't have done it without every player," Enota Coach and Media Specialist Kyle Sanders said. "We teach kids how to articulate themselves and be strong under pressure. ... We teach listening skills, argument skills, basic grammar skills and I teach strategy skills."
Sanders treats his team like athletes, calling them by their last name and using a play strategy he chose not to disclose.
This was Fair Street's first time ever having a Reading Bowl Team.
"The objective is to get students to read," said Amy Hamilton, Fair Street media specialist who co-coached the team alongside Kelly Fuchs.
"Literacy and reading are a major priority at Fair Street and we are always looking for new ways to make it fresh and fun. We hadn't participated in the Helen Ruffin Reading Bowl in the past, so we wanted to start now."
The bowl was the brainchild of DeKalb County Library media specialist Helen Ruffin, Hamilton said. Both Centennial and Enota have participated in it for several years.
The bowl has enough rounds so each team plays twice. There are 10 questions per round. Students have 10 seconds to answer after buzzing in, and correct answers earn their teams 10 points.
"I just like the competition," said Sparkle Cummings, 10, a fifth-grader on the Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School team. "My favorite book was ‘Mockingbird.' It's in the perspective of a girl and she has the same thing my cousin has, so I kind of know how she feels."
Catie Cook, 10, a fifth-grader at Enota, tried out for the team last year. Students must take a test and answer questions correctly to be on the team, which has five members and up to five alternates.
"My older sister was on it ... I decided to do it again this year and it's been even more fun," Cook said.
The bowl was moderated by Shelby Day, media specialist at Gainesville Middle School.
Grayson Wagner, 10, a fifth-grader at Centennial, took Day's open offer to try out for the middle school team to heart.
Her team was co-coached by fifth-grade teacher Kelly Kennedy and media specialist Kathy Anglin, who like Sanders prepared students for the pressure of the situation.
"It was nerve-racking, but it was very fun," Wagner said. "It was kind of hard, and holding the buzzers in your hand, you were never really sure when to go."