Do you know what object Laura treasures most in Little House in the Big Woods? The name of Phileas Fogg’s French valet in Around the World in 80 Days? Or who Mary Anne’s boyfriend was in the Baby-sitters Club series?* Well, the ecstatic New York City fourth- and fifth-graders who packed Scholastic’s auditorium certainly did, when the publisher hosted its second annual Ultimate Author Showdown last Friday afternoon. Luckily, the authors competing on stage did, too—mostly.
The game show, which was broadcast live to thousands of registered classrooms nationwide, kicked off the Scholastic Summer Challenge, a summerlong reading program held in association with Reading Is Fundamental and the National Summer Learning Association, with the goal of attempting to set a new world record for time spent reading during the summer.
“Today we have brought together four fierce contestants, all bestselling authors—and wrestlers,” said Jon Scieszka, in the role of Alex Trebek, “to test their knowledge of children’s books and sleeper holds.” (To be fair, the multiple choice questions never dipped into wrestling territory.) Contestants Christopher Paul Curtis, Gordon Korman, R.L. Stine, and Lisa Yee were competing for a chance to pick (at random) a classroom that would receive $3,500 in books. More than 4,000 classrooms signed up to watch the game show live online, with the first 2,650 eligible to win the prize (the entire game show can be viewed on the Scholastic Summer Challenge Web site).
The enthusiasm of the live audience never waned: hand-decorated signs with slogans like “Let’s Go Lisa” and “Chris is the bomb” were everywhere, and the kids could barely stay in their seats as they tried (sort of) to refrain from shouting out the answers to their favorite authors. And there clearly were favorites, with attendees often breaking up the action by chanting the names of their picks to win.
Each question was worth 10 points during the first round. “In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, what thing, which no one wants to touch, is left on the basketball court at Greg’s school?” Everyone knew, including Gordon Korman, who went on to tie R.L. Stine for the lead. Point values increased to 25 in round two, which Korman dominated, though Curtis answered some key questions, including the age of the cat in The Cat in the Hat (“Nobody knows”) and the name of the missing painting in Chasing Vermeer (“A Lady Waiting”).
The stakes went even higher in the third round, when point values increased to 50. Christopher Paul Curtis knew that a fallen bulletin board was behind Flat Stanley’s flattened state, and Lisa Yee learned that R.L. Stine is not to be trusted. Looking to her neighboring contestant for a hint on a question about his Goosebumps HorrorLand series, she went with his suggestion (“Try D”)—and got it wrong. All’s fair in war and children’s books.
But it was Christopher Paul Curtis who overcame buzzer problems in earlier rounds to emerge victorious, to the overwhelming delight of children sitting up front from River East Elementary School, which he declared “the best school in New York City.” The recipient of the $3,500 book gift, chosen at random by Curtis, was a classroom at Wilsonburg Elementary in Clarksburg, W.Va.
For all the hand-wringing about whether or not kids read, it was evident throughout the game show that the kids in attendance knew their books (classics as well as contemporary titles) inside and out. Their unrestrained excitement about sharing that knowledge was heartening—and contagious.
*Her doll, Charlotte; Passepartout; Logan Bruno