Host a Fun Teen Murder Mystery Party!

Click here to download Homecoming Homicide: A Teen Murder Mystery: (CC BY-NC 4.0)

At least, I like to think they are! One programming concept that has been perennially popular is the MURDER MYSTERY. Everyone likes to play detective, and everyone has a great time pretending to be on a cop show. 

I design these to take about an hour of sleuthing. I know some people are successful at taking a break in the action to allow teens to have snacks and/or listen to the actors do their thing, but I have always had to program these in libraries where few of us could take time out to participate in the program. So what I’ve done here is to allow participants to stay on their desk or to keep working, and to be “discovered” in their area by the teen detectives (who are instructed not to interrupt them if they are assisting other customers!).

You’ll notice a few spelling errors and some other typos – sorry for that. I tried to use all CC licensed clip art; you might substitute something with more local flavor for your teens. I also tell them not to remove evidence, and that only applies to books or materials in the stacks. This specific mystery features a fun clue bag given to the teens, which they can take to the “Police Lab” for discovery. All you have to do is take a paper ream box, cover the inside in dark paper, stick a shadeless lamp in there with a black light bulb for illumination, and tell them to check their liquid Tide-soaked “swabs” for “blood.” Use your imagination! What else might they check with their fake Luminol?!

In other mysteries, I’ve included floral vials in the police file. Dump a little cheap red nail polish in there, and you have a “blood sample.” The props add to the realism and as simple as they are, give the program a little extra wow factor. This one features a crumpled “receipt” pointing out an interesting fact about the glamorous (and dead) Bianca… what other things might have been purchased that could add verisimilitude to your murder mystery?

Feel free to take this and use it as is, put your own spin on things, or use it as a template to write your own murder mystery. Just give me credit and don’t make money with it. I’m licensing it under CC BY-NC 4.0. If you’re a journalist or author and want to quote from it or otherwise reproduce it, please contact me. Otherwise, have fun and get to sleuthing!

NEKLS Innovation Day 2015

My favorite time of year arrived… NEKLS Innovation Day! What a great time for libraries to get together and talk about their favorite technology, innovative services, and glimpse the horizon of our profession. The speakers were all so awesome! My contribution was a session on teen maker projects, and you can find my materials here:

Teen Maker Projects Handout
Slides

I brought samples of our fun projects, including some of my duds (hey, at least now you know what happens when you try to use Model Magic for a resin mold!) and encouraged everyone to try some new, fun ideas to make programming STEAM powered. Thanks to all who attended – I hope you’ll send me some pictures of the awesome things you’re doing in your libraries!

Louisiana Public Libraries for Teens!

Hi everyone, you were a phenomenal group to work with on Friday! This is the place where I will be posting links, slides, and exclusive ideas for you to use with your teens as you go together in your youth services journey. I hope they are helpful, and if you have questions or comments – ANYTHING – just reach out:

erindowney AT gmail.com
@hybridlib on Twitter

Don’t forget what I said to keep talking to each other and networking. Share your successes and talk about missteps – when you talk it out, everyone benefits.

Power Up With Print LA

Notes from Programming and Emerging Tech in the PM

Our AM playlist:
Good Time by Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen
Good Feeling by Flo Rida
Brighter Than the Sun by Colbie Caillat
Dance Apocalyptic by Janelle Monae
Tightrope by Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi)
You Get What You Give by New Radicals
Starry Eyed Surprise by Paul Oakenfold
Happy by Pharrell Williams
Up Up Up by Givers
Suddenly I See by KT Tunstall
Double Dutch Bus by Raven-Symone
The Middle by Jimmy Eat World
Brokenhearted by Karmin

USD 259 Inservice booktalks 2014

Hi everyone! Thanks so much for having me as a part of your inservice today. It was great to talk about awesome books with all of you! Find below my slides from the presentations:

Special shout out to those who stayed for a second round! Be sure to email me soon if you’d like to book a spring date with your school – I am always excited to share new and awesome books with your students, and tell them all about services at the public library.

KLA booktalks!

We had SO MANY awesome books that we just couldn’t get through them all! I’ll post slides, notes, and links here so you can enjoy these in the comfort of your own home. Click here for my slides and here for my notes!

Reality Boy by A.S. King

Amy’s done it again. This was hands down the most compelling galley I brought home with me from ALA – the story of a kid who is

reality boy med size black linedogged through adolescence by his childhood “participation” in a (fake) reality TV show not unlike Supernanny.  Gerald is the “Crapper,” who defecated on tables, in handbags, and various Barbie accessories when he was a preschooler/elementary schooler.  The British nanny (who isn’t who she seems) is brought to help Gerald & his two sisters when his mother writes a desperate letter to the show.  Gerald’s dad is just as unhappy as the rest of them, and the whole family is miserable.  We see Gerald’s mother struggle with a son she considers “retarded,” a younger sister who feels completely out of place, and an older sister whose behavior grows more and more erratic and disturbing with time.

We join Gerald long after the cameras were packed away and the lighting dismantled, but the show haunts him at every turn. His therapist has recommended boxing, but this is only encouraging Gerald’s violent tendencies.  He’s invented a fantasy world called Gersday, where he can spend time doing only the nicest things with characters who are kind and sweet to him, but escaping to Gersday is getting harder and harder.  As if that wasn’t enough, Gerald has met a compelling young lady at his afterschool job slinging hot dogs at the local coliseum.  He figures that nobody’s going to want to date The Crapper – who’d want to be associated with that?

Through flashbacks mixed with present-day scenes, Gerald invites us into his world and shows us what it’s like to drown in the misconceptions of others.  And honestly, that’s really what this book is about – the hidden stories behind carefully crafted narratives, public personas vs. private ones, and what happens when your expectations are shattered by a reality you didn’t want and didn’t ask for.  Like Gerald’s therapist reminds him, we all project our own experiences and expectations on other people to a certain extent – whether it’s making assumptions about a reality TV show family or the new coworker in the next cube.  As Gerald peels back the curtain on his experience, the reader starts discovering more and more of the truth behind the screen – and it’s both more and less shocking than you may expect.  This is a a book right in step with our times, perfect for an age in which we grow closer and simultaneously further apart using screens and social media with the ability to edit our stories down to a version of the truth that skims the surface of our lives like a fancy veneer atop particle board furniture.

I anticipate many reality TV memoirs in the next ten years, as kids like the Duggars, Gosselins, SuperNanny families, and others age up to the point where they feel compelled to share their stories in another medium.  Some will do it for money, sure, but others will do it so that people can hear more about what their shows didn’t show.  I won’t be surprised if their stories are as compelling as Gerald’s.

“We do not talk about another lady’s endowments in public.” (Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger)

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School, #1)Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you delight in a bit of steampunky girl fun, then new student Sophronia’s misadventures at Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality will definitely suit. Sophronia is fourteen, and just not all that interested in keeping a clean hanky on her person – she’d rather tear apart a bit of machinery or dirty her hands, and that simply won’t do. So her mother sends her off to a most unorthodox finishing school, where the girls learn how to turn their feminine wiles into intelligence-gathering, mechanical servants contrive to prevent dashing adventures, and the students dream fondly of the day they are able to poison their first husbands! Of course Sophronia is not able to simply apply herself to her studies. An unpleasant encounter with a group of flywaymen (highwaymen who use dirigibles, of course) on the way to school leads to an alliance between Sophronia & Dimity, both new students, and a suspicion that failing student Monique is not what she seems – a missing communications prototype is linked to Monique, and the twosome persist in attempting to discover the snooty older girl’s secret.

Filled with delightful puns and funny, light details about life in an alternate Victorian England filled with fascinating devices and mysterious alliances, you can recommend this book to fans of similar books like Fever Crumb, Sorcery & Cecelia, or A College of Magics. Fans of the Parasol Protectorate series (Carriger’s books for adult readers) will like this as an expansion of that world.

View all my reviews

UnWholly by Neal Shusterman

UnWholly (Unwind, #2)UnWholly by Neal Shusterman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The misfit trio from Unwind (2007) is back, and the Juvey Cops are on their tails. Shusterman does a great job of suffocating the reader with the same sort of tension that, one imagines, teens in this dystopian future feel. As an excellent source of healthy tissue and organs, rebellious teens (and volunteer Tithes) are the perfect raw material for building a brave new world. The trial and tribulations of the runaways are nothing compared to a new character, Cam, who is slowly awakening to his reality as the most perfect human ever created – a rewind, a new sort of human made completely from the best parts of the best Unwound teens. Their memories are his memories; their experiences echo throughout him. But history is catching up to Connor, Risa, and Lev in ways they never anticipated, and the suspense is ratcheted up higher with each page. It’s been a wait, but this sequel will hook in teen readers who missed Unwind the first time. Recommend with The Adoration of Jenna Fox for teens who are into the medical and ethical questions, or Divergent for those who like their teens on the run from the law.

View all my reviews

The other side of hybridity

I don’t often blog about books and writing here.  Definitely not as often as I blog about online issues, or educational stuff, or similar.  But I’d like to change that, especially considering the debate that’s been going on online.  I think it’s rather puerile to reduce it to a hashtag like #arcgate or “librarians vs. bloggers” because that’s not what’s really going on.  Even within our profession, we’re learning more about the divide that exists between the “techy” librarians and the “reader” librarians, those that set up gaming tournaments vs. those who excel at Readers’  Advisory (RA).  And even that is an inadequate and inaccurate statement, because I know there are a lot more hybrid librarians out there than just me.  There are SO MANY library and information professionals who recommend good books in the morning and teach Intro to WordPress in the afternoon.  There are librarians responsible for their organization’s servers who are also passionate about the stories that we store on the machinery.  So today is my way of beginning a new practice: blogging equally about books and reading in the same way I do about digital issues and the education world.

Today I did one of the more common things I do to keep up with our patrons’ world: I went to the bookstore for some reconnaissance.  You can look at the catalogs and websites from publishers all you want, but it’s equally helpful to hit up a retail outlet to see trends and get inspiration for displays, etc.

My visit turned out into a trip down memory lane, as I got to visit some old familiar friends.  This is what I saw.  First up: Perks of Being a Wallflower!   As a novice teen services librarian, I knew this was an important book by the number of Perks we saw being stolen, beat up, and shared with friends.  I actually asked our current selector to pick up more copies in anticipation of the movie coming out this fall, and we wondered whether or not they would do a new cover.  Glad to report that the classic chartreuse understated cover was retained!  Just a little aqua dot with the movie info was added.  Perks is one of those absolutely essential modern classics that no teen collection can do without – despite being set in the early 90s, Charlie’s story of teen angst, love, heartbreak, abuse, and redemption continues to resonate with today’s teens.

Next up: some wonderful new covers for more classic thrillers.  Caroline Cooney is the queen of mystery and intrigue to me – every new book possesses the same sense of urgency that the old ones do, and she just keeps cranking them out.  Is Cooney the Joyce Carol Oates of YA lit? Possibly, possibly.  What I’m LOVING about these reissues by Ember are the dreamy x-ray noir-esque covers, which to me perfectly capture the Face on the Milk Carton and Whatever Happened to Janie?  It’s a great new look for the Janie books and a wonderful way to reach today’s readers.

Seeing Stolen was like being greeted by an old friend on the shelf – a wonderful reminder of the transformative experience I had on the 2011 Printz committee!  I was very happy to see that the distinctive cover from the hardback made onto the paperback copies, although the alert and worldly reader will realize that it is slightly different from the original Australian cover.  Also, the title was simplified.  But I think that paring those elements away made it even better.  I imagine that it will have a lot of shelf appeal just like this for years to come, just like Perks.

Similarly, another old friend was on hand but in a different package: Ship Breaker!  I think the eyes on this new cover are suitably mysterious and creepy (who’s looking at us? Nailer? Nita? Tool?) and of course I am a huge fan of the well-deserved  shiny medals down the left side.  If you haven’t tried Paolo Bacigalupi yet, please do yourself the favor and dive in.  His distinctly familiar post-apocalyptic world where climate change has upended world trade and polite society stretches into both adult and teen titles.  My senior English teacher (Hey, Mrs. Adams!) spent a lot of time talking to us about the thematic use of “disquietude” and I am not sure I truly appreciated that theme until I read the story of Nailer’s survival off the coast of tomorrow’s New Orleans.
So that was what I saw on my field trip today.  As a librarian, I wear many hats.  I have to stay current in technology, literature, and in many more topics in order to do my job well and to serve our patrons best.  And as you can see, we often do it in our spare time – we don’t get paid to sit and read novels on work time, nor can we learn everything we need to know during the typical work day.  I also visited the enormous Nook kiosk, where an attendant was showing potential Nook buyers all the different models in a well-lit, Apple-esque center stage arena that dominated the floor.  The lure of giant Nooks with screens as tall as me was interesting, but I think I’ll leave that for another day.

Yesterday’s urgency, tomorrow’s failure? (I hope not)

I remember the first time I heard this quote from Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock:

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

Amazing, yes? I ran out to get the book and when I read the copyright date I nearly passed out. He’d been saying this since 1970… and in 2007, it was still incredibly relevant. Also, it was still a concept largely unaddressed by people involved in formal and informal learning environments.

So today when I read the following quotes from Scott McLeod’s blog Dangerously Irrelevant, I knew what I was feeling… sadness, cognitive dissonance, and determination that things must change:

Economically disadvantaged students, who often use the computer for remediation and basic skills, learn to do what the computer tells them, while more affluent students, who use it to learn programming and tool applications, learn to tell the computer what to do. (Neuman, 1991)
AND
Those who cannot claim computers as their own tool for exploring the world never grasp the power of technology… They are controlled by technology as adults – just as drill-and-practice routines controlled them as students. (Pillar, 1992)

These are the inequities that we must destroy as educators, librarians, and lovers of literacy. 21st century literacies are not only found in books, they are also embedded in the habits and actions of the learner.

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