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Cindy Crushes Programming: Mission to Mars Escape Room

In today’s episode of Cindy Crushes Programming, Cindy Shutts shares with us how she hosted a Mission to Mars themed escape room with her teens.

To learn more about the basics of hosting an Escape Room, please check out Breakout Edu as they have basic kits that you can use as a foundation. You can also read a couple of previous posts on Escape Rooms here at TLT and online:

TPiB: Build an Escape Room by Michelle Biwer – Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Locked in the Library! Hosting an Escape Room by Heather Booth

Cindy Crushes Programming: Stranger Things Themed Escape Room

Programming Librarian: Creating a DIY Escape Room for Your Library

Plot: Welcome to the Mars Space Station! Unfortunately, the station is losing oxygen and you have 45 minutes to find the key for the manual override to fix the oxygen levels. A former, disgruntled Space Station employee has hidden the clues to restart the system in the breakroom.


You could use the Breakout Edu Kit

  • 4 digit lock
  • 3 digit lock
  • Word lock
  • Key lock and key
  • Two lock boxes, one small and one large
  • Empty bag of Space Ice Cream
  • I hate Ares note
  • Books
  • Mythology Book
  • Breakroom supplies like plates, salt and pepper shakers, napkins, silverware
  • Mars Space Station Manual (See documents below)
  • Nasa Mars Posters (https://mars.nasa.gov/multimedia/resources/mars-posters-explorers-wanted/)
  • Various images of Mars printed out to look like Mars is outside the window. I like using a porthole or making portholes with paper plates.

Instructions: I made sure I read the prompt, so everyone knew what was going on. I also let them know they had two hints. I am always prepared to add one more hint later on if they need it.

Room Set Up Instructions

Red Herrings:  I will have an empty bag of Space Ice Cream and a Tang Container.

Word Lock: This clue will be in the Space Station Manual. I have bolded the letters L A S E R in the document. This lock will be on the large box.

3 digit Lock: I will have a note on the table saying I hate Ares who is the god of war in Greek Mythology and Mars is the god of war in Roman Mythology.  I am going to bring a book about mythology and have a Roman numeral written in the book on the page about Ares that says 3 9 9 or III IV IV. This lock will be on the large box.

Key Lock: Key lock will be on the small black box. The key will be placed in the large box.

4 Digit Lock: 0319 On the break table, There will be 3 blue paperclips, 1 green paperclip, 9 yellow paper- clips. I will hide a note in the trashcan that has a picture of Clippy, the old Microsoft mascot.  This lock will be attached to the large box.

Final Thoughts: My teens were really on the ball and finished on the 30-minute mark. I would add a directional lock to make it harder next time. I am doing a Star Wars Escape Room in July and I plan on making it a little harder so it will take more time. All the teens were happy and liked the directions.  I was grateful to Nic Mitchel, a fellow teen librarian who helped me made the prompt punchier.

Teen Services 101: So You Want to Do Teen Programming, but What About the Books?

On Monday as part of our ongoing Teen Services 101 discussion we talked specifically about teen programming in public libraries and I said something kind of controversial: It’s hard to host a successful teen book discussion group/club in a public library. Note I didn’t say it’s impossible, but I did say it was hard and I stand by that statement. But there are a lot of ways that you can tie reading and literature into programming and today I’m going to share a few of my favorites.

Popular Book/Book Character Events

I’m old enough to remember when Harry Potter parties were the biggest game in town. I’ve also hosted Rick Riordan inspired Olympians camps, Hunger Games events, and Divergent programs, just to name a few. When The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was big we literally sent a pair of blue jeans around to all the branches and had teens sign them. An Alice in Wonderland inspired mad hatter tea party is a blast! There are so many ways that you can tie books in with programming.

An Alice in Wonderland quote put into a graphic and made into a t-shirt. I told you, I’ve made a lot of t-shirts for teen programs. I did not, for the record, design this graphic.

You can find tie-in events to go with any book. Does the main character do photoraphy? Have a photo making event or paint photo frames. Does the main character sing? Have a karoake party. Take, for example, the graphic novel The Cardboard Kingdom. The title alone is a great event, just have tweens and teens create mini-kingdoms out of cardboard or have them make cardboard armor. You can use MakeDo kits to help make this happen. Find things within the book to inspire activities for your book based events.

A teen models a cardboard helmet made by Morgan, TMS Assistant at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County

If you’re feeling uninspired, you can go by the standby of trivia and viewing parties (as long as you have a public performance license). Or use the elements of the book to create your own Escape Room.

Book Inspired Crafts

I like to tie reading and the YA collection to various craft activities. For example, I’m a big fan of digital media and I have taught teens how to create their own memes and put their favorite quotes on them. I’ve also challenged teens to turn their photos into their own interpretations of their favorite book covers. You can do a lot with a smart phone and a few apps.

Almost any craft activity can be book themed if you add a quote or an image that represents a book.

Just a few of the various book related crafts you can do:

  • Put your favorite quote on a meme using digital media
  • Put your favorite book quote on a blank canvas
  • Make a triptych to describe your favorite book by taking a series of 3 pictures that represent the book
  • Use digital media to make book trading cards
  • Use stop motion or video creation software to create your own book trailers
  • Put your favorite book quote on a book tote or t-shirt
  • Make postcards inspired by your favorite books
  • Make a specific book themed photo booth. For example, you can make Harry Potter props for a Harry Potter themed photo booth
  • Or make a Book Face photo booth

Making Mini Books

There are tons of great books out there that teach you how to make your own mini books and journals. These make for fun programs that get teens thinking about books and writing. Again, you can use digital media or some other art form to put your favorite book inspired quotes on the cover.

Other Things You Can Do:

The Penguin Random House Post it Note book wall at BEA 2019
  • Make space on the wall for teens to share book recommendations via Post It Notes
  • Book spine poetry
  • Black out poetry
  • Turn book covers and graphic novel pages into buttons with a button maker
  • Use a comic book app or blank comic book pages and graphic novel panels to have teens create their own comics and graphic novels
  • Want to promote historical fiction? Host a retro party with retro crafts, games and activities. Books set in the 1980s are now historical fiction, so have fun with that!
  • Want to promote fantasy? Dragon crafts, fairy gardens and DIY crowns are just a few of the activities that you can do
  • Want to promote science fiction? Galaxy slime, galaxy jars and DIY lava lamps are just a few of the activities that you can do

There are over 100 teen programs outlined here at TLT and many of them can easily be given a book related spin. You can also browse through the Teen Programming tag to find ideas. Pinterest and other librarian blogs can also be your friend. I have a regular routine with a variety of blogs and library websites I check periodically to see what everyone else is doing.

When promoting your programs, be sure to put up a display of If You Liked, Try . . . book that go along with your theme. That’s another great way to tie books and reading into programming.

The truth is, every program we do can be tied in with books in some way and can be used to promote our collections and to help cultivate a lifelong interest in books and reading. Programming doesn’t have to be book clubs and discussions to be literary and promote reading. There is nothing wrong with book clubs and discussions, but we need a variety of programming to get a variety of people to engage with our collections. Programming doesn’t take away from our collections and it doesn’t prevent us from creating a book centered culture, it gets our patrons in the doors and reminds them that we have books that can be read and explored in a variety of ways.

I know you all have more great programming ideas that are book related, so please share with us in the comments. Link to any posts you’ve done, share your Pinterest boards, etc.

Teen Services 101

I’m just getting started, what do I need to be successful?

Foundations: Understanding Teens Today

What Do Teens Want from Libraries Today?

The Challenges and Rewards of Serving Teens Today

What Do We Know About Teen Programming

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Wizard of OZ Necklaces


Our library had a series of programs that were themed around the Wizard of Oz. I worked on coming up with craft I could make when I saw my friend, Andrea Sowers, post on her Twitter account a necklace craft she had made. That’s when I realized that what I wanted to do was to make a pendant necklace.

I talked to my coworkers who loved jewelry making and asked Andrea a couple questions about how she made her necklace. I then combined everyone’s contributions to make my own process, which I have outlined below.

Step 1: Print out small images that you want to use in the pendants. Remember they need to be able to be cut in a one-inch circle.

Step Two: If you want to have glitter glue in the image, make sure to tell the teens to use very little because you want the glitter glue to dry before you attach the round cabochon. I used a tiny bit of red glitter glue for the Ruby Red Slippers. Others used silver for Glinda’s wand or green for the Emerald City. I used a toothpick to make sure that I made the glitter glue attach well.

Step three: Take the round cabochon and put a layer of diamond crystal on it and attach the image. Use a toothpick to smooth it out. Roll the toothpick on the back of your picture like a rolling pin to release any air and help it stay flat. Wait for it to dry before staring the next step.

Step four: Use the e6000 glue and put it on the front of the pendant tray. You will want to put your dried round cabochon with the image attached on the tray. I would press it gently. Let it dry completely before wearing.

Final Thoughts: This craft turned out great. I really enjoyed it and I am doing a Disney pendant craft in April. I would have gotten longer necklace cords, because people have different neck sizes and not everyone likes having a tight necklace.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS


Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

TPiB: The Books of Our Heart Button

mapart3A few weeks ago I was talking with another librarian friend of mine when she started to ask me about a book. She stopped and said, “Oh yeah, you’re all about making now, you don’t really do books anymore.”

This caused me to pause. Of course I am still all about books.

But it’s true, I am also about making.

I have always been about books. I have also always been about making, I just used to call it programming.

And I am always looking for ways to get teens thinking about books in our Teen MakerSpace at The Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County (OH), which is how we came up with the “Books of Our Heart Button”.

As you may have heard me say, button making has proven to be incredibly popular for us. We have teens that come in every day simply to make buttons. So we are constantly looking for new button making challenges. I also just did a new big order of “maker” books for our Teen MakerSpace, which I try to always look through when they arrive for any great ideas.


Map Art Lab is a part of the Art Lab series from Quarto Books. We have every title in this series in our Teen MakerSpace and this is our most recent addition. Thumbing through the book I stumbled across this page . . .


And my MakerSpace assistant and I thought it would make a great button. In fact, we figured we could make the heart out of thumbprints given the popularity of our recent thumbprint buttons and have the teens add their favorite books instead of their favorite streets.


  • Button maker (we use American Button Machines)
  • Button making supplies: shell, pin back, mylar sheet
  • Plain paper (we used white, but any color would do)
  • A heart shaped stencil that will fit within your button size (we made ours)
  • Masking tape
  • Ink pads
  • 2.25 circle hole punch (we use these to cut out our circles)
  • Fine tip Sharpie


1. Cut your circle using the circle hole punch.

2. Tear slim strips of masking tape which you will use to make a negative space on your paper. The masking tape will create the negative line spaces where you will write in the names of your favorite books, so be thinking about how many lines you will need and how you want them to look.


3. Using your heart stencil and marker, trace the heart onto your circle.


4. Fill in your heart using your ink pad and your thumbprint.

mapart45. Slowly and carefully remove your masking tape to reveal your negative line space. I went ahead and completed the heart outline with the marker.

6. Where your negative line spaces are, write the names of your favorite books.

7. Decorate as you wish and then make into your button following your button maker instructions.


I love my button so much I also made one with my husband and kids’ names. But more importantly, I was excited to find another way that I could combine books with making to keep our teens thinking about books while having fun making in our Teen MakerSpace.