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Unalaska elementary Battle of the Books team breaks local record

Maggie Nelson
The four-member team, which includes Indira Cummings, Gaven Casia, Raegan Kitsyuk and Eternity Leon took fourth place in the state Battle of the Books competition.

A group of Unalaska elementary students won fourth place in Alaska’s state Battle of the Books competition this year. It’s the furthest any of Unalaska’s elementary teams have ever made it.

The four-member team, which includes Indira Cummings, Gaven Casia, Raegan Kitsyuk and Eternity Leon competed in the all-day state competition on Feb. 14.

In preparation for the battle, the Mystical Creatures, as they call themselves, read and reread a dozen books over roughly four months. On the day of the battle, the fourth-graders joined judges and teams from around the state on a conference call, answering questions and showing off their literary skills. They made it three rounds in the tournament, taking fourth place out of 32 total teams in their age group.

The coronavirus pandemic prevented them from competing last year, so this year was the first time any of them were able to attend the Battle of the Books.

At the start of the state competition, Cummings said they weren’t feeling terribly confident.

“The first round, we didn't really know what we were doing,” Cummings said. “We were nervous. And then Miss Adgate told us, ‘Be calm.’ And we were like, ‘let's try that trick.’”

Casia said when they got overwhelmed they would recite the word “zen,” to calm their nerves.

And it worked. They made it another two rounds and even challenged the judges on one of the questions.

“The question was, ‘In which book is the “i” in a word dotted with a heart?’ And our answer was ‘“Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business.”’” Cummings said. “And the actual answer that [the judges] had put down was that it was ‘What is Lego.’ But it was in both books. They never noticed that on the cover of ‘Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business,’ Mindy was dotted with a heart.”

The judges recognized their error and gave the Mystical Creatures their points.

The team celebrated their win with pizza, cupcakes and a viewing of “The Tale of Despereaux,” a film adaptation of one of the books they read.

Second grade teacher Micki Adgate was a coach for the third-and fourth-graders. She helped put together the after-school party.

“I was so proud of them,” Adgate said. “And their energy was making my heart feel like it was going to jump out of my chest. If they got it right, they’d go crazy. And I’m like ‘Don't get overconfident.’ Then I kept telling them, ‘Zen.’ And then if they’d get it wrong, they got flustered. I'm like, ‘OK, shake it off’ … their enthusiasm and excitement was so strong.”

Judith Withers also coaches the third-and fourth-graders. She said one of the highlights of this year’s Battle of the Books was witnessing kids enjoying education.

“Seeing kids loving reading, loving books – when you hear kids talk about books, that is one of the most amazing experiences as a teacher,” Withers said. “Because that is our job – to make them love books, to make them love reading. And so to see that in these kids, that is awesome. That's wonderful.”

Both coaches look forward to seeing how next year’s groups perform. They hope this win and the big celebration inspire other students to get involved.

Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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