WASHINGTON – Unlike most fourth grade students,R'ay Fodor happily accepts extra homework. He studies spelling a lot more than his friends,but he said it's worth it if it helps him reach his dream of winning the national spelling bee and becoming “famous.”
Fodor's dad started coaching him in spelling when he was just 5 years old. Now,four years later,he enters every spelling be he can,and made it farther than any other third-grade student in the Jewish Primary Day School Bee last year.
“I've gotten good grades in spelling since the second grade,so I thought I would give it a go,” he said.
Fodor is like many would-be spelling bee contestants who will be poring over the new book,”How to Spell like a Champ.”
It provides study tips,advice from previous winners,word games and puzzles for practice. It also offers students insight into what it is really like to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee,including how big the stage is,how to get parents “to chill” and what losing feels like.
The book follows the recent spike in popularity of spelling bees. With the spelling bee being shown on prime time television for the first time last year,and with fictional portrayals of spelling competitions in books,movies and even on Broadway,spelling bees are at their height.
“The book is not only for a child to learn from but dream from,” said Paige Kimble,a former champ who is a co-author and director of the national bee. “The demand from young people for information about the national contest is greater than ever. They want to learn how to become champion spellers,too.”
The third author is Carolyn Andrews,whose son,Ned,won the bee in 1994.
The National Spelling Bee started in 1925 with just nine contestants. It was originally sponsored by the Louisville Courier-Journal. The Scripps Howard News Service and its parent,the E.W. Scripps Co.,took over sponsorship in 1941. This year's bee is May 30 and 31 in Washington.
“This is an old-fashioned competition,so there is a big nostalgia factor. In the digital age,it is still something we can get together and do,” co-author Barrie Trinkle said. “Plus,people enjoy watching kids compete and marvel at how someone 4 feet tall can know so many big words.”
Trinkle,who won the national bee in 1973 with the word “vouchsafe,” met recently with about 90 students from local elementary schools at the bookstore Politics & Prose to answer questions and sign copies of the book. The eager young spellers quizzed the author,asking her to spell “antidisestablishmentarianism” – which at 28 letters is widely accepted as the longest word in the English language.
It wasn't long before the table turned,with the students participating in an impromptu spelling bee,trying their best to spell words such as “incognito,” “staccato” and “toboggan.”
The authors hope the book will not only be useful to youngsters already involved in spelling but also attract interest from those who are curious about bees but haven't participated.
“I am hoping for a whole new audience. Those who have seen the bee on TV and thought it looked like fun but wondered how to get there,” Trinkle said. “The book will give those kids a way to reach their goals.”
“I'm trying to instill in them a love of words,” said Daly,a semi-retired writer and public speaker from nearby Chevy Chase,Md. “I've been a word nut my whole life,but I tell them you only have to learn a little bit at a time.”
He encourages his grandchildren to learn one new word a day,but he said they get permission to take their birthdays off.
That may sounds like a lot of work to those not committed to spelling,but for kids like Fodor it is an obligation well worth the time if the end result is a large trophy and the title of spelling champion.
Spelling tips from the experts
Tips from former Scripps National Spelling Bee winners,as featured in “How to Spell Like a Champ:”
- Acknowledge you will be asked words you have not studied.
- Pretend the rest of the audience is on Mars,and that you and the judges are sitting in your living room having a conversation.
- Study Webster's Third New International Dictionary – the dictionary used for word list selection.
- Keep a spelling notebook with you so you can review words any time you have a spare minute.