As soon as the question is read, four blonde heads nearly collide as the girls lean in to whisper and debate until they come up with an answer.
As they confer, the opposing team members wait in anticipation of getting their chance to answer.
And so it goes, back and forth, as avid young readers wrack their brains to remember some of the most minute details of 16 books they read for Oregon Battle of the Books (OBOB).
Saturday brought 23 teams to Baker High School for the regional competition of OBOB’s District 6, which encompasses the northeast corner of Oregon stretching as far west as Arlington.
Battle of the Books is divided into three age groups: elementary (grades 3-5); middle school (grades 6-8); and high school (grades 9-12).
Books are selected each year based on community recommendations and final approval by a state committee. The high school list includes 12 titles; elementary and middle school divisions have 16 books.
Students spend the good part of year reading the books. Once the school year starts, most divide into teams and attend practices to answer questions that test their memories.
Saturday morning, just minutes before their battle started, the team from Willowcreek Elementary (grades 1-8), in Malheur County near Vale, furiously paged through books for last-minute cramming.
“This is our third year,” said Lainey Cummings, an eighth-grader.
At Willowcreek, students interested in Battle of the Books try out for the team through mock battles. Once determined, team members study at lunch, after school, on Fridays (they have a four-day school week), and quiz each other on sports trips.
“They read, they come up with their own questions. They’re a self-motivated team,” said Jamie Dotson, whose daughter, Jessica, is an eighth-grader on the team.
For competition, teams cannot be larger than four.
But teams can be smaller.
Cadi Corn, a sixth-grader from Nyssa, was a team of one.
“There were other kids who signed up, but they didn’t read the books,” Corn said.
She read all 16 books, and re-read the longest book, “The Sword of Summer” by Rick Riordan. It was her first year in OBOB, so she’d never experienced a battle until Saturday.
“I just have to rely on what I know — and sometimes, I don’t know,” she said.
Most teams wore matching shirts, and quite a few featured clever sayings. The back of Corn’s shirt read “The only thing you absolutely have to know in life is the location of the library.”
The team from Hermiston’s Sandstone Middle School sported the saying “Never underestimate the power of a girl with a book.”
Several teams arrived in Baker City on Friday due to the 8 a.m. registration for middle school teams.
“But at least we got to play in the pool,” Caelyn Pullen, from Irrigon, said with a smile.
Regional winners from Saturday’s competition were:
• Grades 3-5: McKay Creek Elementary, Pendleton
• Grades 6-8: La Grande Middle School
• Grades 9-12: Hermiston High School. Imbler High School placed second, and is also going to state.
The state competition is April 6 at Chemeketa Community College in Salem.