Tag Archives: teens

Program: Escape Room!

I had wanted to do an escape room at the library since last year and I’m glad I gave myself six months to figure it all out!

I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction the program would get so I was hesitant to request a kit from BreakoutEDU since they cost $125. My thinking was “Let’s do a test run and if anyone cares we can order this kit.”

Well…they cared!


The interest was overwhelming! We did this the first week of August. We had it going for three days, four groups the first two days and then six groups the last one. I advertised the program for tweens and teens, but, as usual, people did not read the description and signed up some younger kids. But it all worked out.

Let me just say, designing this program from scratch was a challenge! If you want to do this for your library, crowd source! Email staff and ask for old lock boxes (with keys please), combination locks (with combination please!), diaries with keys, and any other trick item you could use as a puzzle. I asked my system and ended up with a nice collection and then some.

Also, you’re going to need to play test this so if you already have an established teen group or group that hangs out after school that you can lure into the meeting room for an afternoon of playing your game, DO IT. Also, have your staff do it. They will find all the flaws in our logic, the puzzles that were too easy, and the parts of the game that don’t quite flow. I did this and it was a life saver! I was able to tweak the program before my official day and it made the game a lot better and I already have ideas about how I will update it if I have another go round with this kit.

Though I have now put in an order for a BreakoutEDU kit so I might take the easy way out next time and download one of their programs!

Our theme was “The Mad Scientist” and I had a coworker make a video as the Mad Scientist and explain how he was hiding clues around the room that lead to his “treasure” (Hershey’s gold nuggets shhh).

I was sure to direct them to the first clue, a rebus on the chalk board, because otherwise they would just start wandering the room and it would throw off the flow of my puzzles.

I’ll see if you can figure out my rebus:


I thought it was easy but quickly found out most teens are not familiar with the works of Stephen Hawking.

This lead to a hollowed out book (one girl exclaimed “OMG THEY CUT UP THE BOOK!” when she found it) with secret codes inside. This was another thing I would not do again or at least do more accurately. The little folder had holes in it and if you lined up the holes over the paragraph, you could find the clue. It is REALLY DIFFICULT to cut those holes out perfectly. I should have made a few of these but it took so long to get done, I ran out of steam. Just be aware if you try a cipher like this.

My one evil thing was hiding a key in the slime, which most of the kids were excited to look for though I heard a few “ew! gross!” as they stuck their hands in.

They key led to a lock box. The first go around I just had the box sitting out on the table and the kids were aware of it immediately, gesturing to it every time they passed the table. The second group, I casually laid a small strip of stickers over the lock and suddenly it was invisible! This amused me endlessly.


Inside the lockbox was a photo of a little wooden brown box that a staff member gave me. It is a trick box and you just have to fiddle with it until you find where the secret compartment is. Inside that was the key to a diary, which was also just on a table, but I flipped it over so you couldn’t see the lock and just set a magnifying glass on top of it to obscure it.

This diary was from a dollar store, super cheap lock but it was So simple that people made it harder on themselves when trying to open it. I won’t lie, it took me several minutes to figure out how to trigger it and most of the teams struggled with it.

The diary had a little poem that gave them hints to the combination lock on the briefcase which was the final clue. It referred them to a calendar I had on the wall, but they didn’t need to check that to figure out the combo.


I learned that next time I should go with more codes/ciphers and make sure that you really must solve the clues in order to get to the next one. I had a few too many things just lying around that were either too easy or too hard to spot.

But over all it went really well. They had 15 minutes to solve the puzzles and every group made it (though I had to throw a few hints at a few of them near the end). Everyone had a good time and parents were really happy because most of the Escape Rooms cost $25+ and are designed for adults so they loved being able to do this for free. We will be repeating the program as soon as the BreakoutEDU kit arrives!

Summer Outreach to Middle Schools – GIFtalks!

One of the lovely bloggers at Teen Services Underground (which, if you are not a member, you should be!) linked to this post about using GIFs with booktalks.

I had signed myself up for several school visits at the end of the May and start of June so I was really excited to see this idea (I didn’t even know you could use GIFs in PowerPoint – this feature will be abused from now on, whether I’m talking to 5th graders or our library staff). I had my booklists, created from titles my coworkers and I had enjoyed plus ones that were well reviewed in School Library Journal and a few I just knew about from word of mouth from our regular teen readers.

My presentation was about 45 minutes long. The first 20 minutes was my basic Summer Reading Club plug, talking about programs we would have going on all summer long and reminding them that the public library is a place that is totally FREE to get into and also has air conditioning. I didn’t pretend like it was the only place they should want to be this summer. That’s ridiculous. But I pointed out that there were going to be summer days when they would need another activity because of weather or being stuck at home. I kept the presentation light and funny and told them how easy it was to get a library card.

After we got through that, I did booktalks for about 30 minutes. I broke them down into vague genres and did about 3-4 books per genre, with a GIF behind me while talking. The kids were on the edge of their seats when I would change slides, standing up to see what characters were up there.

ANYWAY, I haven’t seen any statistics yet but I have seen a lot of older kids and teens sign up for our program and so many have come in to get the books I talked about. And just as many have said “Hello” to me when they visit, which just makes me feel like a rockstar.

So I can totally vouch for this. If you want your Readers Advisory to be a bit more fun when you visit schools, this is a great way to go, especially when talking to a large audience. My groups about 100 kids each and I was impressed by how closely they listened. I talked to over 1000 kids in about 3 weeks and it was amazing to hear them say they wanted to read something I had suggested!

If you want to see my presentation, you can download it here!

I had a mother ask me the other day if she should allow her middle school aged daughter to read Mockingjay, the final installment in The Hunger Games trilogy. I had a few random questions float through my head but I asked the most obvious one – had she read the other two books. The mother said yes, she was just worried because she had heard this one was worse.

I told her to let her daughter read the book.

I mean, she had made it this far, she had survived The Hunger Games, the Quarter Quell, let her read about the rebellion against the Capitol.

Yes, Mockingjay is not the watered down super mega happy ending Rowling I will never forgive you that many children’s series have, but it’s not a children’s book. It’s for young adults. It’s not meant to sugar-coat the world.

And if what I’ve heard about the Divergent series is true, this is going to be the new trend in YA lit, using Science Fiction and Fantasy the way they should be used, to hold a mirror up to our society, not to gaze into the mirror and see what we want most in the world, but to look into it and see reality.

I did suggest that maybe Mom also read the books because there is a lot to discuss. It always boggles my mind that parents are concerned but not *quite* concerned enough to pick up these hot books and read them along with their children and use them as an opportunity for discussion. That’s the way to nurture a reader, to teach kids to think critically about the media they are inundated with every day, to create a thinker and not just a consumer.

…I should really rename this blog “why are you on a soap box”…but whatever, I’m not giving up this sweet URL. 😛

Conference Fun Time: Books for the Beast

Beast2013logo Yesterday, I attended Books for the Beast, a conference about young adult literature that occurs every two years in Baltimore. It’s like most library book conferences – you read a set of books, attend discussion groups and then hear a few speakers – except that actual tweens, teens, and young adults are invited to the event as well.

For a change of pace, the organizers moved away from lumping the books by genre for the groups and instead put things together by a theme. I think this was brilliant because it kept people from just picking their favorite genre. On the flip side of that, in previous conferences many attendees would pick a genre they didn’t normally read, but that also worked to to the books disadvantage since the readers would go in with preconceived notions based on the genre category. Each theme managed to contain a variety of genres, and usually one graphic novel too.

If you are curious, here is the list of this year’s themes:

A is for Athlete:
Pinned by Sharon Flake
Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen
Marathon by Boaz Yakin

B is for (Follow Your) Bliss:
Winter Town by Stephen Edmond
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Virtuosity by Jessica Martinez
Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

C is for Continental:
A Game for Swallows: to live, to die, to return by Zeina Abirached
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

D is for Dead:
How they Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg
Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Orchards by Holly Thompson

E is for Excitement:
Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition by Karen Blumenthal
The Raft by S.A. Bodeen
Legend by Marie Lu
Trapped by Michael Northrup
Au Revoir Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

F is for Fantastic:
Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
The Apothecary by Maile Meloy
Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
Misfit by Jon Skovron

I facilitated the “Continental” group, first on my own then with a partner for the second session. I chose this group because I had already read two of the books (Verity and Swallows) so I figured getting through the other three shouldn’t be a problem. Since I facilitated, I didn’t actually get to discuss the books myself – the group leader is meant to pose the questions that gets the group talking but not give their own opinion that may sway the group. So I’m going to post my thoughts here now!

I listened to Anna and the French Kiss since it was clearly a romance and I figured that the audiobook would get me through. I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the story. It is a girl meets boy story, but the characters are very well developed and while Anna does spend a good portion of the book worrying about if Etienne likes her, she does have plenty of other stuff going on in her life too. (A few of the younger teens in our group were upset with Anna having a crush on a boy who already had a girlfriend).

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece had been on my to-reads list for quite sometime but only because David “Doctor Who” Tennant did a blurb for the back of it. The title told me enough about the book that I had not been in a rush to read it but this conference gave me a reason. It was a heart-breaking story, beautifully written but I can’t imagine who I would give it to. I suppose those teens who are attracted to lives filled with tragedy. Though this isn’t your typical teen dealing with death book since the narrator is only 10 years old. (Teens in our group said they never would have picked this book up on their own).

The Book of Blood and Shadow is not my kind of book. It’s a Da Vinci Code sort of mystery with a teen cast. If you like reading through mysterious letters and dealing with secret societies, you might enjoy this one. For me, it took too long to get started, and I was enjoying the story at the beginning of the book so when it switched over to the kind of story it was really going to be, I lost interest. It’s not quite a thriller, not quite a mystery, and not quite supernatural. It is a bit too long and I got sick of the main character worrying about if the mysterious boy likes her when she was supposed to be solving the murder of her best friends. (Even the teens felt the story had one too many plot twists, leaving them feeling frustrated by the end).

A Game for Swallows is a graphic novel about Lebanonese Civil War. It is less of a story and more of a captured moment from the author’s childhood. Abirached uses the format wonderfully, as the members of her neighborhood crowd into the foyer of her grandmother’s home, and crowd into each panel. For better or for worse, the book drew many comparisons to Persepolis, probably because it deals with a crisis in the Middle East and the Abirached’s art style in very similar to Satrapi’s.

Code Name Verity was probably my favorite of the group. I read it when it first came out last year, fascinated by the very simple cover art (I try not to read the book flaps anymore, too many spoilers). It took me awhile to get into the book, but once you began to understand where the story might be going, it was hard to stop reading. And then, of course, you get the 180 in the middle of the book. Since I had read the book over a year ago, I started listening to it to try to refresh my memory. Reading the book is an experience in itself since you can see the codes that the writer is trying to hide within the text. Listening to it is also an experience, as the narrators do a wonderful job with the text. I recommend both. Not one or the other – both. When you finish the book the first time, you’re going to want to go back and do it again, so I suggest both formats. (My favorite comment from a teen was how they don’t like Historical Fiction but they liked this book because it wasn’t trying to teach her anything. I tried not to laugh maniacally because I’m sure she learned something and just doesn’t even realize it).

OH! and then there were the wonderful speakers. Author Robin Wasserman did a great presentation on “darkness” when it comes to books and especially why it’s appealing and important to young adult readers. Then Sharon Flake talked about taking people out of boxes in her stories and that even though when she writes she is focusing on taking African-American boys out of stereotype boxes, she is always surprised by how many other kinds of teens she hears from who have read her books and connected to them. Raina Telgemeier talked about being on the outside, and how she took those experiences and wrote her two graphic novels that have connected with teens all over the country.

So if you are a teacher, librarian, or teen in the Baltimore area (we actually had a librarian in my group who came down from Pennsylvania!), mark your calendar for 2015. Books for the Beast will be back and you won’t want to miss it!