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Hosting a Murder Mystery Event

Today we have Nancy McKay from  Byron Public Library (IL) talking about her murder mystery event.


Are you looking for a killer event for teens at your library? Then perhaps a murder mystery event would be right for you! 

Before you begin, preparation is critical. Picking an appropriate theme is your first step, and when I first began planning my first mystery event, I discovered the company Playing with Murder (https://www.playingwithmurder.com/) that had been recommended to me.

Playing with Murder offers comprehensive kits that are reasonably priced and include instructions and character sheets for your attendees. The themes have age categories, so depending on your age range, take the suggestions to heart so you don’t end up with some racy and inappropriate characters for a teen audience. But that being said, the owner was very accommodating and was able to modify the kit Set Sail for Disaster to make it teen appropriate, and for the kit The Terrible Castle of Baron Castaign he developed a new character bundle for us so everyone could have a role when I had more teens ask me if they could attend once the original roles were all taken. Another kit, Zombie Cannibal Asylum, can easily have more zombie roles added with no extra effort. 

The way I organized my roles, was to cast the pivotal roles with responsible teens you know will definitely attend. The remaining roles are handed out to the teens who register, and if they are any no-shows their roles aren’t integral to the plot. Depending on the kit you purchase, you can run this program for 10-30+ youth. At my library, I announced when the roles were available, and the teens had to show up in person to pick up their character sheet. This helped at several levels- I was able to influence who a few roles went to, the teens became invested in the program since they had to make an effort to come in and get their role, and it gave them time to study their role plus design their costume. 

Decorations can be as big or little as works for your time, space and budget. You will need at least two distinct areas, one to begin with where the teens will mingle and establish their characters, and a second area once the murder has occurred.  The kit will give you decoration ideas for the two areas based on the theme you picked. I served a pizza dinner with additional themed snacks during the first half of the party, but what you serve is completely up to you. As the program needs moving around the room, I scheduled the event on a Friday night after the library closed, so we would have free rein of the library facilities. Depending on your building, certain areas can and should be closed off, and I told them about these rules during my introductory talk once they all arrived.

I tied in my mystery theme to my Teen Advisory Board meetings, with teens helping me create set pieces for the event. I picked my theme by late August, so I could use my September and October meetings to work on decorations with the teens. They had a blast painting and making props that also earned them volunteer hours as part of the TAB meetings. While I have always planned this annual event in late October close to Halloween, this event could be done year-round. While my murder mystery event spanned a few months of preparation, for I tied in TAB into it, your prep does not need to be as complicated as mine. So long as you have two weeks to prep and order decorations online you can pull off a successful event. 

 

At the very least you will need an additional adult to help with the event. While your co-worker can take a role, you should not, instead, you are serving as a narrator and trouble-shooter. In later years, I gave the narrator role to a trusted college student, giving me more freedom to handle other aspects of the event and to take pictures. You will be following a script, so make sure you have all the paperwork necessary for you to guide the teens through the mystery. When the teens picked up the character sheets they were given limited information, and they will be given an additional clue sheet at the event, so have those sheets prepared for them. I would also recommend you keep a master copy of the original packet at the ready in case you forgot something or need to make a last-minute copy of an instruction sheet.

 

My murder mystery event ended up being one of my biggest events each year. As soon as one was over, the teens were asking me what next year’s theme would be, as they loved solving the central mystery. They had fun mingling with one another in character, and I saw kids laughing and talking to one another who normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to talk to one another. They took ownership of the event, as many of them created some of the props and many of them went all out on their costumes. Parents also became fans, for they were thrilled that the library offered a fun and safe event for their teens on a weekend.


As I recently moved to another library for a new job opportunity, I look forward to getting to know the teens in this community and beginning a new spooktacular tradition with them here! 

Current Events Resources

If you are looking to teach media literacy or current events, these are must-have sites for your teachers’ toolkit. They are also great alternatives to search-engine news or a news topic search because they often provide additional context or vocabulary a student might need to understand a news article.

All Sides — This site compiles news from many sources, identifying their left, right or center perspective, and then putting the headlines side-by-side. When teaching students to understand bias and perspective, there’s no better way than to let them observe the story (or even just the headlines!) from multiple sources and figure out how one site tells the story differently than the other and why they might do so. 

CNN 10 — This site offers ten minute news video segments covering a wide range of current events in a student-friendly format.

Newsela — This site is a go-to for assigning news articles in a class with students who read at different levels or in a middle school class when a traditional news article might be at a higher reading level than students. It offers up-to-date articles and often offers the same article edited at a few different reading levels, so not all students in a class need to read the same version in order to be able to talk about the current event. While much content can be accessed for free, a paid subscription allows teachers to assign and assess news activities and create custom collections. 

Smithsonian Teen Tribune — Much like Newsela, this site offers news articles at multiple reading levels, with accompanying teacher resources. Articles in Spanish are also provided. 

Do you have any go-to sites when teaching teens to evaluate news or learn about a current event? Please share in the comments!

Backlist Sci-Fi You Should Know

Have you checked the catalogs on Edelweiss or the PW book announcements recently? If you have, you are probably overwhelmed by the sheer amount of books published not just in a year, but sometimes in one month! Because of the nature of advertising and publishing, the hype train is flashy and loud and dominates the conversation. But what about those books who rode that hype train two or three years ago? Are they automatically irrelevant because something else has come along? I say heck no! Keep the backlist alive! The year a book was published does not determine its quality or whether teens will like it. Here are some options for backlist sci-fi novels for teens:

Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

mortal engines book cover

In a post-apocalyptic world with ambulatory cities that consume each other for resources, Hester and Ned run afoul of a powerful scientist and end up on the run. Also, there are pirates!

Pacifica by Kristen Simmons

Segregation after cataclysmic climate change recall the Japanese internment camps of World War II. This book also contains pirates!

Reboot by Amy Tintera

The longer a Reboot stays dead, the stronger they become when they reanimate. Wren, dead for 178 minutes, is an elite super soldier who discovers that there’s something rotten in the Republic of Texas.

Insignia by S.J. Kincaid

Teens with superlative gaming skills are recruited to fight as virtual proxies in World War III.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

After the Second Civil War, life is protected from birth to age 13. But if teens get too rowdy or obstinate for their parents, they can be Unwound – their organs transplanted into different bodies.

Inside Out by Maria V. Snyder

Trella’s life as a Scrub seems doomed to be short and brutal: either she’ll die of overwork or be fed into a machine called the Chomper. She chooses option 3: start a revolution.

The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow

After a homicidal yet disturbingly charming AI seizes control of Earth’s governments, the children of world leaders are held as hostages to ensure global peace. Contains no pirates but lots of adorable goats!

Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs

Teens who have fallen through society’s cracks are recruited to test an experimental time travel technology, but they break its one rule: don’t check out your own future.

 

 

Program Revamp Check-In

Way back in January, I wrote a post about revamping some of the teen programming at one of my branches to try to increase attendance and to try out some new ideas.

It’s now been a full 9 months since we’ve changed stuff so I wanted to provide an update as to what we’ve done and if it’s been successful or not.

For this branch, we have 3 teen Friday programs per month and we decided to change 2 of them off the bat for 2019. We changed Teen Board Game Time to just regular old Teen Game Time and we changed Teen Robotics to Teen STEAM. Teen Crafternoon is the one program we’ve left alone, for the most part. 

Some of the best attended programs we’ve had since the revamp include:

  • Life-Size Board Games
  • Slime
  • Paper Airplane Challenge
  • Duct tape crafts
  • Potions class (science experiments)
  • Sewing 

These were all highly attended and a few even had turn aways, which was new for a teen program! Some our our programs, however, were very poorly attended or had no teens show up at all.

Two of the teen programs I tried out that had no attendance were Recess Rewind and Trivia. At my other branch, Recess Rewind isn’t as popular either so I wasn’t surprised no one showed. I was pretty surprised and disappointed when no one showed for Trivia though. I was really excited about it and we usually had 10-15 show up at my other branch.

Teen Crafternoon has now morphed into a monthly sewing program and so far has been a total success! We’re very excited to see how the attendance continues to be for that.

Come January, we have decided to once again do a bit of revamping to our teen programs. Since Teen Game Time has been the biggest flop, we are turning it simply into Teen Time. We are going to have it setup like our Teen Tuesday, which is basically just some video games, snacks, tv, and hanging out. We’re hoping it garners more attendance, but we shall see!

How have your revamps gone? Have anything new and fun planned for the new year? Let us know in the comments! 

Filipino American National History Month: Authors You Should Know

October is Filipino American National History Month (FANHM)! This is a great time to do a display or reading list in your library, or to recommend titles by Filipino-American and Filipino authors to your teens (which I hope you do year-round, too!). As a Filipino-American reader, I had such a hard time finding books that represented me when I was a teen. I’m so glad that now we have much more Filipino representation in YA & MG, but we still have a long way to go.

Today I’m sharing some authors we should all know. For the purpose of promoting more voices, I’m sharing both Filipino authors and Filipino-American.

MIDDLE GRADE AUTHORS

  • Erin Entrada Kelly: The Land of Forgotten Girls, Blackbird Fly, Hello Universe, You Go First, Lalani of the Distant Sea
  • Gail Villanueva: My Fate According to the Butterfly
  • Mae Respicio: The House that Lou Built
  • Marie Miranda Cruz: Everlasting Nora
  • Sophia N. Lee: What Things Mean

YOUNG ADULT AUTHORS

  • Randy Ribay: When the Shot Drops, An Infinite Number of Parallel Universes, Patron Saints of Nothing
  • Melissa de la Cruz: Something in Between, Someone to Love, the Blue Bloods series
  • Rin Chupeco: The Girl From the Well, The Suffering, The Bone Witch trilogy
  • Juleah del Rosario: 500 Words or Less
  • Lgyia Day Peñaflor: Unscripted Joss Byrd, All of This is True
  • Roshani Chokski: The Star Touched Queen, the Guilded Wolves 
  • Rhoda Belleza: Empress of a Thousand Skies series
  • Kate Evangelista: The Boyfriend Bracket, The Dodge Cove trilogy
  • Maura Milan: Ignite the Stars, Eclipse the Skies 

 

This is by no means a comprehensive list! There are so many more Filipino & Filipino-American authors out there, and so many that are published by small presses or independently; additionally, many of these authors have more books than I’ve listed here. Randy Ribay provides great recommendations, and I highly recommend checking out his website and following him on Instagram.

Who are your favorite Filipino and Filipino-American authors?