Program Idea: Escape the Room Game

You are locked in a room with 11 others. The room is filled with mysterious and puzzling objects. Can you put the pieces together to find the key and escape in one hour?

A few weeks ago, I went with some friends to try Puzzle Break in Seattle, a live escape the room game. I can’t give too much away (spoilers!), but you have to work together to solve puzzles of various sorts to find a way out of the room you are in. This was super fun and I can’t wait until they release the new puzzle, so I can go again. There are also variations in other cities, including SCRAP Entertainment, which puts on events in Japan and on the west coast, and Escape the Room NYC. Adventure Rooms Canada even offers it for classroom groups. I also thought it would make a fun teen library program!

It would take quite a bit of planning to set up a cohesive game, but I think the concept would be easily scalable for a group of teens. I think of it as a mix between a murder mystery game — there should be a cohesive theme or story that the puzzles revolve around — a scavenger hunt, and puzzles. It could be set up in a meeting room, or even done in the whole library after-hours.

According to Wikipedia, these are some common escape the room game tropes to possibly include in a real-life scenario:

  • A wastepaper basket in which or under which is a clue
  • The safe holding an important key or clue
  • The dresser or set of cupboards, whose drawers must be individually searched
  • The bookcase, each of whose books might contain a clue
  • The flat surface whose underside might hold a clue—e.g. tables, chairs or benches
  • The two-sided flat object, such as a poster or painting, whose reverse side holds a clue, tool or key
  • The inexplicable object that the player discovers early in the game, which later turns out to be one of many such parts that combine to form an outlandish but necessary device (e.g. rounded prongs that turn out to be the ears of a toy rabbit that completes a set, thus opening a hidden compartment)
  • The rug whose corners flip over to reveal tools or keys or trapdoors
  • The movable box, chair or table, which either reveals a hidden object or allows the player to reach high shelves and ledges
  • The cushion or pillow that must be slashed open with a knife to reveal some important object inside

If you’ve ever played any of the Professor Layton video games, those would be a great source of puzzle ideas that utilize different learning/thinking styles and are appropriate for a teen audience.

If I get around to implementing this idea in my library, I will share how it goes!

Five Board Games for Teen Library Programs

If there’s something I love almost as much as YA lit, it’s board games. Over the last few years, I’ve gotten really into playing a huge variety of games, from simple party games to long, complex, epic games (I’m looking at you, Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game). There are so many options out there besides the standards like Monopoly or Taboo or even the more recently popular indie games like Apples to Apples or Cranium. Here are a few proven games for groups that don’t involve a lot of pieces or long sets of rules and that have teen appeal.

For more suggestions, there was actually a School Library Journal article today about board games for teens. The same author also wrote about Gateway, or “Bait” Games last year. If you really want to delve into the board gaming world, BoardGameGeek is the ultimate resource, but it can be a bit overwhelming for beginners.

Are there any games that are popular in your library or school?


In this humorous take on the French Revolution, players fight to gather the most prestigious nobles for their guillotines. Nobles are worth points and the one with the most points at the end wins — but strategically played action cards can trip up other players. This is a quick, easy-to-learn game for up to five players that solely relies on the provided deck — no pieces to lose! This would be especially apt for high schoolers learning about the era. You could even tie this into books like Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly or The Red Necklace by Sally Gardner.


Using a deck of imaginative, vibrantly illustrated cards, players serve in turn as the storyteller and make up a short description of a secretly selected card from their deck. The other players choose cards from their own decks that might also match the description. All the cards are shuffled together and the players try to guess which card belongs to the storyteller. Points are awarded to those who correctly pick the storyteller’s card and to those who get other players to vote for their card instead. For up to six players, this game offers a fantastic mix of creativity and competition that is great for a range of ages.

Shadow HuntersShadow Hunters

It’s the Shadows versus the Hunters in this game of dice-rolling and deception. Each player secretly takes the role of a Shadow, a Hunter, or a neutral character and tries to figure out who their allies are and lead their team to victory by defeating the opposing players. This is a fantastic game for large groups of up to eight players that relies on a small, simple board, cards, and dice. Games are quick and it’s easy to learn and explain. With vampires and werewolves, this has great appeal for paranormal fans, and the Japanese aesthetic will woo fans of anime and manga.

zombie fluxxFluxx

This wacky card game has rules and objectives that change as the game progresses. It’s a purely card-based game for up to six players with a lot of replay potential. Besides the standard version, there are also themed editions like Zombie Fluxx and Monty Python Fluxx that will have huge appeal to teens.

Match of the PenguinsMatch of the Penguins

Featuring the image of a cute penguin on the beach, players try to identify matching elements of nearly identical cards in this fast-paced game. Whoever’s the quickest to notice the matching cards by shouting or grabbing the penguin pawn gets to keep the cards and the one with the most cards at the end wins. This one allows up to seven players and can get loud, so avoid playing in a public library space!

Hunger Games Party Ideas

mockingjayThe third and final installment of Suzanne Collins’ popular Hunger Games series, Mockingkay, arrives on August 24. Why not celebrate the release with a Hunger Games-themed party (minus the brutal killings, natch)?

Inspiration from Other Libraries and Bookstores

Several libraries and bookstores have held parties for the release of Catching Fire or just for fun.

Amity Middle School hosted a party complete with trivia, a cornucopia challenge, and a physical challenge with groups of students competing for different districts. They’ve posted all of their materials and instructions on their website. The trivia questions are especially good!

The blog Bookmarked has some coverage of a Scholastic sponsored Hunger Games event at the Manila International Book Fair. Teams of two created costumes, participated in a cornucopia race, killed each other with stickers, and ended with a prune-eating contest.

Photos and ideas from Highland Park Public Library including homemade bows and arrows for an archery contest.

CardiganNation has some fun ideas like a tribute costume parade, a fanfiction contest, and crafts.

Even more ideas at Publisher’s Weekly Shelf Talker blog. They set up training stations with Nerf archery and shooting, knot-tying, problem-solving, and breath control with EyePops.

More ideas

Movie casting: The inevitable Hunger Games movie is already in development. Have participants vote for their ultimate movie cast based on pre-selected actors or with write-in votes. A few fan lists for ideas: Casting Call, My Cast List for The Hunger Games Movie, The Hunger Games Movie: The Perfect Cast , The Hunger Games – Movie Cast, Mockingjay Fever/The Hunger Games Movie Cast

Decorations: Decorate your space with fan-made maps of Panem (this one is really nice) and images of foreign covers (Scholastic has many posted on their blog with a few more at the Nerdfighters forum).

Display readalikes: Offer a selection of similar books to read once they’ve finished with the trilogy. There are plenty of great lists online like Evanston Public Library, Normal Public Library, and Jefferson-Madison Regional Library. Besides fiction, it could be cool to include survival books like The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook or The complete wilderness training book.

Team Peeta vs. Team Gale: Have your participants vote for who they think Katniss should end up with. But definitely allow alternate options like Team Katniss (who needs a guy?) or Team I Don’t Care!

Prize Giveaway: If you want to give away prizes, simulate the reaping day and the cornucopia by conducting a version of Yankee Swap. Wrap all the prizes and have everyone draw a number. Participants select prizes in order. Each participant has the option to keep the prize they selected and open it, or swap their unwrapped prize for someone else’s opened one.

Costume Parade: Hold a costume parade and contest. Provide small teams with mystery packs of miscellaneous supplies (left-over craft materials!) and a time limit to create tribute costumes. Give out award certificates like ‘most likely to cause a stir in the Capitol’ or ‘most likely to impress Cinna’.

Have you held a Hunger Games event? Do you have any ideas or advice?

Program Idea: Minute to Win It and Silent Library

Looking for some quick, fun games to play with teens at the library as part of a teen group meeting or larger program? A few current tv shows can provide some inspiration!

Minute to Win It is a new game show on NBC that features contestants performing 60-second tasks that involve everyday objects. For example, one task called Dizzy Mummy challenges players to unwind a single roll of toilet paper by spinning their body repeatedly in a 360–without tearing the paper. NBC provides the rules, set-up, and how-to videos for the more than 60 challenges on their site and encourages people to send in videos of themselves trying the tasks.

Based on a Japanese game show, in MTV’s Silent Library players have to complete randomly drawn, bizarre tasks while remaining completely silent — they are in a library after all. A list of the challenges is available on the show’s Wikipedia page. Most are a little over the top for a library program, but the concept is a fun one — you could even incorporate the tasks from Minute to Win It with a Silent Library twist.

Program Idea: Featuring Local Teens

Brian Mathews, a librarian at UCSB and blogger at The Ubiquitous Librarian, shares an program idea he’s implementing at his library. Each month, he plans to feature a person or group on campus, whether they’re artists, musicians, filmmakers, writers, or whatever. For the kickoff month, the library is offering a free mp3 download of a campus band, hosting an outdoor concert, and highlighting the group on promotional materials. He says:

One of my guiding principles is that academic libraries should highlight the scholarly, cultural, creative, and service contributions of the community. Not only highlight, but strive to make them tangible and engaging.

The same can be said about public libraries, of course. Featuring local teen talent on in-library displays or in programs is a cost-effective way to build community ties and encourage teen participation. Some libraries host battle of the bands competitions and others solicit teen-written material for literary zines. What other ways can you highlight the achievements of local teens?

Twilight Party Ideas

vampire bite cupcakes
The second Twilight movie, New Moon, opens next Friday, Nov. 20. Are you throwing a party at your library? Here are a few ideas for activities, food and decorations to include in the festivities.

Based on the book covers, use apples, red ribbons, chess pieces, and tulips to decorate your space.

I made some vampire bite cupcakes for Halloween, as seen above, adapting this recipe from Baking Bites. To save time, use cake mix and canned frosting. Yum!

Use the beautifully designed labels from Hostess with the Mostess to decorate bottles of red juice or red soda.

Host a trivia contest. Find lots of questions at this Twilight Trivia site, She Knows Entertainment, or write your own if you’ve read the books. Make sure to include a mix of easy and difficult questions.

Make shimmering body lotion, marble magnets using images from the movie or book covers, or Team Edward/Team Jacob t-shirts or buttons.

A librarian on the YA-YAAC listserv suggested a “Drive like a Cullen” race course with cheap remote control cars from Wal-Mart and others suggested a vampires vs. werewolves tug-of-war.

Give out plastic vampire fangs as prizes.

Unfortunately, Summit has pulled public performance rights for the first movie in November and December. Why not show other vampire and werewolf-related movies? Try Blood and Chocolate (werewolves and based on a YA book), Van Helsing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (movie) or TV episodes, or I Am Legend.

Get lots more ideas at Studio 5 or at Tara’s Twilight Party, a blog dedicated to Twilight parties!

Program Idea: Hula Hoops

hoopsie by flowers & machinery

(via flowers & machinery)

The origin of the hula hoop is unclear (they may have been around in ancient Greece), but it became a popular pastime in 1958 when Wham-o introduced the plastic hoop to the U.S. Since then, the hula hoop has become a mainstay of youth culture with popularity that waxes and wanes over time. Within the last ten years, though, hooping has developed into a thriving subculture, particularly within the jam-band and raving communities. And more recently, hooping has caught on in the fitness world, with hula hoop classes offered at health clubs and at-home exercise videos.

While you can pick up a classic plastic hoop at stores like Toys R Us or Target, these are very lightweight and usually designed for children. Modern hoops used by hooping fanatics are bigger, heavier and flashier. You can even pick up an LED/fire combo hoop for a couple hundred dollars at a site like Superhooper. But one of the appealing aspects of hooping involves making your own hoop and decorating it to your heart’s desire. It can be done quickly and fairly cheaply with materials found at most large hardware stores.

For a fun and not too expensive program for tweens or teens, invite a local hooper to demonstrate hooping techniques and different hoops. Then let the kids get hands-on and make their own hoops. You’ll need a large indoor or outdoor area with access to an electrical outlet for the construction of the hoops.

Browse the Hoop Group Directory to find a local hooping group or see if there is a Hoopnotica or HoopGirl instructor in your area.

Make a Hoop

Supplies needed:
3/4″ 100 or 160 psi Polyethylene tubing (like this from Lowe’s): between 8-10 feet per person, so a 100-foot roll will give you 10 hoops ~$3/hoop
3/4″ plastic tube connectors: <$1/hoop PVC pipe cutter (like this): ~$20
Hairdryer: bring one from home
Several rolls of colorful tape: Identi-Tape has a large variety of tapes and caters to hoopers. You’ll probably need to budget about 75′ of tape for one hoop, so this is the most expensive part. Vinyl tape is the cheapest per foot, but gaffer’s tape is more popular because of its texture. If you can, also get some metallic, holographic or glow-in-the-dark tape for added fun.

1. Cut tubing to desired size using PVC cutter. The hoop should be about as tall as your waist.
2. Use hair dryer to soften ends of tubing.
3. Connect the two ends of tubing using the connector.
4. Cover the whole tube using your colorful tape!

Visit JasonUnbound for a more detailed tutorial with pictures. Magazine is the go-to online resource for all things hooping including how-to videos, hoop-making articles, and information on the hooping subculture.