Programs for Teens

teen programsLast month, I gave a keynote address at the NJ Library Association & NJ State Library Youth Services Forum. I always like to leave time at the end for questions, and here is one question I wish I could have answered better and more thoroughly. Hence, this post.

Q: What sorts of programs do you do for teens?

A: My library does have some opportunities for teens, but…

Most of my work is with preK – grade 8. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I’m a single staffer, so my program roster is limited to what I can manage by myself (currently, I’m juggling two weekly story times, a weekly classroom program, a bi-weekly children’s literary club, an author interview program, a publication, an annual writing contest, this blog, occasional weekend programs, the launch of a new program for underserved kids, and the development of new online middle school programs).

Secondly, I primarily read children’s chapter fiction. YA is not my territory (I also joked that YA is scary to me. I mean, do I really want to revisit all the pain and suffering I went through as a teen? Even if it does mean scoring an awesome sparkly vampire boyfriend?).

That said, my library does offer some opportunities for teens, and I thought I would share them here, along with some suggestions for developing teen programs. Here’s our current programming:

  1. Teens can submit writing pieces to the Picture Book Press, our children’s literary quarterly.  Click the title to read An Ode to the Radish, one of my favorite haiku poems of all time. It was submitted by a 17 year-old.
  2. Our annual writing contest, 350 for 50, has three age categories. The top age category is for 14 -16 year-olds. Click the title to read The Pit, last year’s winner in that category.
  3. Princyclopedia, our (former) massive annual event was for ages 4 -14. You can get a little taste of what Princyclopedia was like in the beginning of this post.
  4. Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary club, is all about books, writing, and doing unusual activities related to literacy. Initially, the club was for children ages 8 & up. So I worked with a number of 13 – 16 year-olds. Unfortunately, it was a difficult to develop content that was appropriate for such a wide age span, so the current age range for Cotsen Critix is 9 -12-year-olds.
  5. Cotsen sometimes offers specialized Saturday programs for teens such as Elvish 101, a 2-hour workshop devoted to learning to read, write, and speak Quenya, the high language of J.R. Tolkien’s elves. During a program break we sipped New Zealand spring water from crystal goblets and munched on lembas bread. Elen sila lûmenn’ omentielvo!

Presently, I’m developing some collections-based programs for middle school students, but someday…oh someday…I would love to do high school lectures based on Cotsen’s collections. Depictions of war in picture books, gender identity as evidenced in children’s magazines, analyzing the zeitgeist of period artwork…I’ll get there someday! By the way, if you’d like to learn a little more about Cotsen’s collections, click here to visit the curatorial blog).

In the meantime, here are my top four recommendations for developing teen programming.

  1. Offer Experts. Whenever possible, I staff my programs with specialists. Some are hired, and some are volunteers. A geologist at a Journey to the Center of the Earth event, a University lecturer at a Chemistry of Magic program, professional stage fighters at a Robin Hood event, a historical reenactor bringing a past century to life, a local artist or student poet leading a creative workshop. I try to create opportunities for teens to engage in a mature, intellectual dialogue that satisfies their curiosity and encouraged their interests.
  2. Collaborate. I like to work one-on-one with teens on creative projects. Currently I’m working with a high school junior to create a full-size Cinderella dress out of trash. We’ll feature it in the Picture Book Press and display it at princess program we’re developing for the spring. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic young mind, but I can offer her an opportunity to engage in a creative collaboration while still (and this is important) managing to meet deadlines.
  3. Ask. If you’re stumped, put together a teen focus group and ask them what they want, what they need, and if they could really use a particular program. With the investment of a little time (and possibly a couple pizzas) you could gain a treasure trove of information (or at the very least, some insight into the minds of your target group).
  4. Fun is good, but…it might be that the needs of your population are homework help, computer skills, English as a second language, or locating resources to get them through tough times. Movie screenings, trivia contests, and gaming conventions are great, but there’s nothing wrong with focusing your resources on the not-so-glamorous-but-very-much-needed programs. Especially if your time and budget are limited.

Riddle-De-Diddle

group shot, castleAh, a lovely group shot outside the castle.

The above image is not Photoshopped in any way (seriously, I went outside Firestone Library and took the shot with everyone throwing me curious glances. That’s dedication folks!).

These lovely finger puppets were prizes at a Fairy Tale Boot Camp program at our library. As families entered the gallery, they were greeted by a Court Jester who asked them to guess the characters from six fairy tale riddles. Identify them all and you won your choice of three puppets (which I ordered from Oriental Trading Company). You were allowed endless hints, so everyone eventually won of course.

finger puppetsHere are the six riddles, written by me and student Kay Zhang:

There once was a girl in red,
who visited Grandma in bed.
But something was wrong:
Grandma’s nose was too long!
This little girl had been very misled.
Answer: Little Red Riding Hood

There once was a boy who was clever
He wanted to stay young forever.
Find pirates and caves,
and Indian braves,
in the land they call “Never Never.”
Answer: Peter Pan

There once was a girl in a tower,
who took a long time to shower.
Why you may ask,
so lengthy a task?
Just to shampoo took her an hour!
Answer: Rapunzel

There once was a house made of candy.
To us that may sound rather dandy.
This house has a glitch.
It comes with a witch!
So, keep a smart sister handy.
Answer: Hansel and Gretel

There once was a boy made of wood,
He told lies whenever he could.
To fulfill his dream,
he learned not to scheme.
His nose finally stayed as it should.
Answer: Pinocchio

Salt, sugar, butter, and flour.
Cook in the oven an hour.
The cookie’s ready to eat,
But be fast on your feet!
He runs on super horsepower.
Answer: Gingerbread Man

Other activities at the program included making castle blueprints (and learning some Medieval architecture in the process), taking a crash course in magical creature identification, breaching a castle wall with dodge balls (complete with heckling knight), deciphering Latin spells (from a certified wizard who also happened to be a University graduate student), searching the gallery for a hidden unicorn, making crowns and fairy wings, and examining utensils, tools, and objects displayed by the Society for Creative Anachronism. We also watched two knights whomp each other repeatedly in battle.

knightsLooking to do some sword fighting yourself? Perhaps these would be of interest.

School for Scoundrels

famous literary villainsBehold the vilest collection of literary villains ever to gather in an esteemed place of learning! In other words, here is the cast from School for Scoundrels, a program we hosted at my library. Scroll to the bottom of the post for a complete listing of who’s who!

School for Scoundrels began as a tribute to the various villains who hounded our favorite heroes. Then I thought…what if all the villains belonged to an elite school? What if kids could attend the school and learn all sorts of nefarious, gross, and classically villainous things? A program was born!

In addition to mingling with the school’s famous “alumni,” kids practiced ciphers and codes, started a petri dish bacteria farm, produced a nasty “severed finger” gift box (and received instructions for more gross out activities to try at home), met Aragog the live tarantula (and made a dangling arachnid of their own!), learned how to detect a lie (and fool a polygraph machine with hot and cold packs), built a secret lair (suggestions: classic castle, wooden fort, tank, gingerbread cottage, innocuous bungalow), created an evil nickname (aided with our helpful hint sheet), swashbuckled with pirates, designed a wanted poster (with caricature assistance from Kemy Lin, a very talented student artist), and got into magical mischief with some select Harry Potter spells (the most laugh-inducing was Confundo).

They also practiced cape twirling and evil laughter. The cape twirling was my favorite, especially with names like “The Classic Reveal,” the “Side Arm Sweep,” the “Full-Extension Glide,” and the “Dramatic Egress.” When all the courses were complete, kids earned their very own School for Scoundrels diploma:

diplomaThis program wouldn’t have been possible without the tremendous assistance of Princeton University student actors, who were recruited and coached by my student assistant, Sarah Paton. They were SO game to dress up and stay in character the entire time. But they also knew when to take it easy on the younger (or more timid) kids. For a program of this nature, that’s really important.

famous literary villainsTop row, left to right: Professor Moriarty (Matt Trujil), Iago (Gregory Kufera), Wicked Witch of the West (Katie McGunagle), Wicked Stepmother from Cinderella (Kerry Brodie), Eye of Sauron (Gideon Grossman), Evil Queen from Snow White (Julie Chang), Slytherin Students (Kemy Lin, Vivian Qin), IT (Dana Sheridan). Bottom row, left to right: Long John Silver (Ambika Vora), Captain Hook (Sarah Paton). Well, Mrs. Silver and Mrs. Hook, respectively.

p.s. – You might notice the name tags. They said things like “Hello! My name is The Evil Queen.” Parents LOVED them!