Building a Mystery (not the Sarah McLachlan song)
Have you ever attended one of those murder mystery programs for adults? Now you can make one for your tweens and teens at the library.
To run a good murder mystery program at your library you need to put your creative librarian hat on and let your imagination run wild. It is easy to spend money on a pre made mystery kit, but if you have the time, make your own. Create the mystery setting in your library, have a librarian go missing and set the crime scene. Caution tape and a duct tape outline of the body make for great props. Perhaps the librarian was found under a crack in the floor, or downstairs under a stack of books. Make sure evidence is planted and there is an estimate time of death. Identify what staff member will be the victim and the culprit and then the fun starts. Come up with a motive for each staff member involved. Write a short paragraph for each staff member including where they were the night of the crime and an alibi. Here is an example:
“I left work around 2:30pm that day, I had a doctor’s appointment right in town and then I went home to make dinner and go to my kid’s school pageant. I would never do anything like that to Mary; she was one of my favorite people to work with. I really hope you figure out who did this”
Write alibi’s for as many staff members as you can get to participate. Use these alibis to identify their time and location when the crime happened. These alibis will be recorded on video (use a video camera or your cell phone). Have each staff member read their alibi on camera, have some staff members look right into the camera, others not looking at all, tapping their feet and so on. When you show kids these videos have them look for different behavior that might make them look guilty or innocent.
Matching up with the times noted in each staff members alibi, make a fake schedule for all staff members, this will be used as a piece of evidence. Next write an email that has some back and forth between the victim and a potential suspect. Create fingerprints, using photos from online or dip your fingertips in pencil led and rub it on a piece of paper. Create writing samples of a note that was found with the victim. This is always the last clue, as the older kids will easily identify the matching handwriting.
It is always best to start with examining the crime scene, if you have the money in your budget go to the dollar store and purchase the mini composition notebooks that come in a pack of three. Kids will write their thoughts in here and feel like a real detective. After examining the crime scene, hand out the schedules to each kid, once the kids have those, show the videos and explain what an alibi is and what interrogation tactics are. Pass out the remaining clues one at a time and discuss. It always helps to have a large piece of paper with notes for each suspect hung up on the wall. Take a screenshot of the alibi movies and use that as the mugshot for each suspect. After kids have pieced all the evidence together and agree on a culprit, go ahead and make the arrest!
This program not only raises critical thinking skills, but also increases vocabulary and introduces children to careers.
Meredith Levine is Head of Youth Services at the Chattanooga Public Library in Tennessee. She is a member of the School Age Programs and Services Committee of ALSC. If you have any questions, email her at email@example.com and follow on Twitter @schmoopie517
Grossed-out and fractured Halloween
Several years ago, I attended an excellent children’s librarian skill share on using how to add props to story time. One of my colleagues introduced me to Bone Soup by Cambria Evans, a Halloween fractured fairy tale based on the “clever man” fable, Stone Soup. My colleague poignantly noted that most kids love to be grossed out and recommended Bone Soup as the perfect grossed-out fairy tale.
Finnigin, a wandering ghoul, is shunned by the local townspeople due to his infamous appetite. Through his wits and a little kindness from a tiny werewolf, he manages to trick the others into contributing their ingredients to soup made from a “magic” bone, as well as gooey eyeballs, leathery bat wings and all. Bone Soup is guaranteed to delight a wide range of children but if you want to gild the lily a tad, the story is even more outrageous and fun when accompanied by a theatrical production of making the bone soup along with the story. I went to my local witches’ supply store, also known as the dollar store, to purchase the ingredients: mouse droppings
(brown rice), spider eggs (cotton balls painted with black dots), fake centipedes, plastic eyeballs, glow-in-the-dark bat wings, fingernails (fake nails), a large cauldron, and of course, a magic (plastic) bone.
I usually make the soup as I tell the story, stirring the mixture along with Finnigin and his reluctant friends; though, if I have a very patient group willing to share duties, I let the children concoct the magic soup themselves. Of course, I pretend to slurp the soup at the very end and the kids always demand to see the final product. Many of the young patrons at my old library branch did not celebrate Halloween officially, but they always demanded Bone Soup when All Hallows Eve rolled around.
“Interactive” Bone Soup is a great and an easy, if not foul, way to add props to your Halloween storytelling! Pairing this version of the story with another version of Stone Soup (I recommend Jon Muth’s retelling) should invoke an interesting comparative folklore discussion!
Kate Eckert is a member of the School Age Programs & Services Committee and is a Children’s Librarian at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She tweets @8bitstate and may also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.