I’ve always been a big fan of The Washington Post’s annual Peep Diorama Contest. The level of artistry and creativity exhibited is astounding, and I’ve always been particularly impressed by the way each year’s crop of dioramas comment on and parody contemporary culture. From Donald Trump to Downton Abbey–truly any subject can be made into a Peep masterpiece (masterpeep?).
When I became a Teen Librarian five years ago, I knew I needed to turn this into a program. I’m a strong believer in the “if you feed them, they will come” philosophy of teen programming, and I of course love any program that allows me to just throw out a bunch of craft supplies and let the teens go for it! I try to keep my creative programs flexible–I want the teens to have as much freedom of expression as possible. A Peep Diorama Contest perfectly combines these philosophies. My first Peep program was such a hit, it’s now something I do every year.
Want to host your own Peep Diorama Contest? Now that I’m a Peep Diorama veteran, I’ve got plenty of advice:
Before the program:
Schedule your program to take place after Easter and purchase your Peeps.
This is my number one Must Do because you can buy peeps and other random Easter candy the day after Easter for 50% off! Plan on 1-2 packages of peeps per attendee. In terms of other candy, I find that the most popular/useful things are Twizzler’s Pull and Peel, gum drops, gold chocolate coins, jelly beans, and rolos.
Collect shoeboxes from staff
About a month before your program, send out a call for shoeboxes to your coworkers. It’s best to have one box per attendee, but if you’re short you can always let the teens pair up.
Make sure you have a wide variety of adhesives.
Getting peeps and other candies and craft supplies to stick to the shoeboxes can be a real struggle. Regular tacky and Elmer’s glue can be used for a lot of the materials in the dioramas, but be sure to have a hot glue gun at the ready, and maybe even Gorilla glue if you’re feeling brave.
Gather up random craft supplies.
This is a great opportunity to get rid of some of the random things you have leftover from past programs. There are a few items you should definitely have on hand–different colored pipe cleaners, construction paper, Popsicle sticks, markers, glitter glue and scissors–but beyond that, anything goes.
Build in extra time for clean up
Make sure you give yourself at least a full 30 minutes to clean up afterward the program. This activity involves a lot of supplies and it can get really messy. Try to end the program about 15 minutes before the stated end time so the teens can help put away all their materials. Pro-tip: Peep sugar dust gets everywhere. Be sure lay out plastic tablecloths or tarps on work surfaces for the easiest clean up.
At the Program:
Lay clear ground rules about what constitutes an acceptable diorama topic.
Your rules are going to vary a bit depending on a number of factors, including the age of your attendees, your library’s policies, etc. but making them clear beforehand is important.
At my last job, my audience consisted primarily of middle school kids. I never really had to give them any parameters. They tended to stick with pop culture themed dioramas like Frozen, the Wizard of Oz, Doctor Who, etc. and everything was pretty tame. At my current library though, my programs are primarily attended by high school students, mostly boys, who love to shock each other (and me!). After someone made a Peep strip club a couple years ago, I now make sure to tell them before they begin that the dioramas must be PG! I also ask that they don’t tease or bully each other in any way. Beyond that though, I let them be as provocative as they want.
I work in a very liberal community, and I’ve found that the teens here like to choose political topics. I appreciate that they care about current events, and I try not to censor them in any way though they definitely like to make controversial choices. For example, last year’s winner featured a Peep-filled Donald Trump rally, and the 2nd place diorama was called “Ted Cruz: Zodiac Killer.” This year’s winner was a Communist rally featuring all-red, sour cherry flavored Peeps. Other contenders included a diorama about the Black Lives Matter movement, and one about Thirteen Reasons Why. Clearly, the subject matter is endless, so it’s good to give your teens a few guidelines.
After the Program:
Show off their creations!
If you’re able to, display the winning diorama (or as many as you can) for a few days somewhere in your library. If you can’t display the dioramas, take photos and share them on your library’s website or Facebook page. The teens love seeing their work on display, and it’s great marketing.
There are plenty of other ways to host a Peep Diorama Contest. Some libraries ask patrons to build dioramas at home and then bring them to the library for judging. Others select themes for their teens to use.
These contests have been some of my all-time favorite programs. Please let me know if you try this with your teens!
Jessica Hilbun Schwartz is a Teen Services Librarian in Louisville, CO. She's a native Coloradoan, but because she received both an MLS in Library Science and an MA in Children's Literature from Simmons College in Boston, MA she'll always have a soft spot for Bostonians and their glorious accents. Jessica is actively involved with ALA and YALSA and is currently serving on the 2018 Best Fiction for Young Adult selection committee. When she's not at the library, Jessica can usually be found reading picture books aloud to her very patient husband, baking shortbread, trying to learn French, or cuddling under a blanket with a good book.