Teen Program: Hot Pepper Escalation

So, unfortunately, this is my last week with the library I currently work with – which is sad, because I’ve been here for almost three years and deeply enjoyed everything I’ve learned and all the people I’ve worked with. But! The good news is that I’m leaving for a great, full-time opportunity at another library, and until then, I’m running some pretty cool stuff for my teens right up until my very last hour here.

Which is what I wanted to talk to you about today, because our most recent summer program was a complete winner that I intend to duplicate the absolute first chance I get – I call it the Hot Pepper Escalation, and truly it is a test of endurance among all others.

For $5 and access to a fabulous grocery store, I scored six varieties of hot peppers (I used poblano, jalapeno, banana, serrano, Thai and habanero) which I arranged in order of hotness from least to most (it’s the order they’re listed above, for reference). I put their Scoville units on labels, gave a short spiel on Scovilles, capscaicin oil, and started egging my audience on.

How did the teens feel about this?

It was a glorious chorus of “This is no big deal, I can do this easy” morphing into “OH NO WHERE ARE THE CHIPS” (I provided tortilla chips to take the burn out). Anyone who made it from bottom to the top without a chip or water break won a pass to the local movie theater.

A+, would plan again. You could also do this with hot sauces or salsas, or turn your leftovers into salsas.


My First SRP Promotional Visit


Today I did my very first “promotional” school visit – I have been to schools before to lead programs, and I’ve had meetings with school librarians and teachers, but this was the first time I went to a school, stood on a stage, and talked at a huge group of kids who really would rather have been eating pizza.

It was quite an experience. A good one! A little overwhelming, but good.

I was at the local middle school to promote our teen summer reading program. At FPPL, we call “teens” kids aged 12-18, so we hit middle school as well as high school. This was the first time we’d been able to coordinate with the middle school librarian to come in and pitch the summer program to this age group, so I was excited for the opportunity but also feeling a bit trepidation – due to scheduling limitations, my time to talk to them was going to have to happen over the lunch hour.

I planned my visit carefully: I would get the last ten minutes of the 7th grade lunch hour, and the first ten minutes of the 6th. I brought a prize wheel, labelled with the phobias we’re using as theme weeks (our program, The Beautiful Nightmare, is themed around conquering and defeating personal fears. We’re gonna be eating bugs AT LEAST once.) with the idea that kids could spin the wheel and guess the fear for a prize (a piece of candy). I had bookmarks with the kick-off party info and our weeks on the back. I had an ally (the school librarian) and a microphone.

Things went well! They could have gone better – but things went well. For my first outing like this, I’m giving myself the win.

The scene: an auditorium-esque arrangement of chairs. Kids sitting in them scattered all about, some turned around, some busy on Chromebooks, everyone making a dull roar. Myself and the school librarian on a stage in front of them, armed with microphones. It wasn’t enough, in the end – the biggest error I think I made was trying to command attention when lunch was halfway over. Even when I asked for volunteers to spin the wheel for the promise of candy, I had trouble keeping the attention of the kids.

The second presentation went much smoother, because at that point I was SUPER fresh off feeling hoarse from the 7th graders and knew what, immediately, I could smooth over. The biggest advantage I had was that the kids were corralled as soon as they entered the lunch room; they didn’t have a chance to settle into their social time before I started talking, so I didn’t need to yank them away from each other. Instead of calling for volunteers one at a time, I picked four kids out of the audience and had them go one right after another. I let them know that 11-year-olds who would be 12 in the fall could participate (this is new, and I’m very in favor of it; summer is such a liminal space for kids, it seemed cruel of me to deny some kids our program just because they’d turn 12 in, say, August.).

I was especially grateful for two things: one, to have the chance to introduce myself to this group of kids, because while we see many of them at the library on a regular basis you never see all of them. Now they’ve had a chance to see me, hear my name, and have a person to connect to the library, so hopefully coming to the library will be a little easier.

Two, that we’re able to be building this relationship with the middle school librarian. He was so gracious and helpful in setting up this visit with me, and the school is SO close to the library; we’ll be able to do some great stuff in partnership with him, now that we’ve gotten our foot in the door.

If You Feed Them, They Will Come…AND Do the Dishes

I have a more serious thinkpiece that’s in the process of being written, but first I have to tell you all about my absolute victory that happened yesterday.

“If you feed them, they will come” is a staple truism in teen services. Having trouble getting teens into your program? Bring snacks. Teenagers are A. always hungry and B. have no money, so bribery with food is a pretty popular tactic for teen librarians. Personally, I’d rather my kids come to something because they WANT to…which is why I really, really like putting on cooking programs.

Over the summer, we did a food-based program every Monday, and they were always very well attended. My spotlight program was the faux-campfire cooking, where we baked potatoes in the “fire” of my panini press, and the raw foods smoothie program, where we got teens to eat smoothies with kale in them. Recalling that success, I decided I wanted to do a mug cooking program that, if successful, could spawn a repeating Pop-Up Kitchen series of cooking events where we learn how to make easy, healthy snacks that use super common ingredients and don’t use more than a microwave (or maybe a toaster oven).

My friends, I fed them, and they came. We made mug omelets and mug cake (yes, the cake was not all that healthy, but the omelets were, and everyone ended up wanting to make one of each).

I regret I do not have photos – I was too busy refilling ingredient bowls and moderating the line for the microwave. Kids were requesting other recipes before we’d started cleaning up. AND THEN, the absolute cherry on top, were the teens (about half the group, even) who voluntarily helped me wash out all the mugs.

If you have a microwave in your library and a handful of microwave-safe mugs (heck, even if you don’t have mugs, you can pick some up at the dollar store or a resale shop), I cannot recommend this program enough. Pinterest has TONS of mug cooking recipes with different levels of complexity; I went with two that only used three or four ingredients to keep my costs down:

Farmers microwave omelets
Gooey chocolate mug cake

I had 12 teens and the whole thing cost me $20.

Next time for Pop-Up Kitchen I think we’re going to do English muffin pizzas (the request was for biscuit dough pizzas, but I think the recipes will work better when they only need to cook for a few minutes; one of the reasons things went as smoothly as they did was because no one needed the microwave for longer than 90 seconds).

Terra Nova: Culinarian Badge

We’ve reached the end, guys. This is the last program write-up I’ll be doing for Terra Nova, since I won’t actually be there for the party (I will post some pics and reactions from our teens, though, because it looks like such a cool event my supervisor is planning for them).

Our last food-based program this summer was making rock candy, something I’d never done before, although it sounds like a pretty common experiment in some school science/home ec classes. I used these instructions for reference, and we set it up assembly-line style – I heated water up to boiling in our electric kettle, and poured some into everyone’s jar that had been pre-food colored. Then the teens were on their own for stirring in sugar and clipping in their sticks to the lip of the jars.


This ended up being almost a pop-up program, when I set things up there weren’t a lot of interested parties but I definitely attracted more kids the longer I had stuff going on. Eventually I had to turn a couple kids away because I ran out of jars! (I always feel bad about doing that, but as any librarian can tell you, our supplies aren’t limitless and we gotta encourage people to be on time.)


I gotta tell you guys…this one was messy. We got sugar everywhere, and toward the end of the day someone spilled one of the jars all over the table. And I was surprised at how many kids left their jars behind at the end of the day! (To be fair, on a normal day we would have been happy to hang on to the jars for a better time to take them home, but we’ve got a small fly problem right now and can’t have sugar water sitting out).

I kinda wish I’d made one the week before, to have an example of fully grown rock candy to show them – it might have made it more compelling to keep better track of their jars. But in general, it was indicative of all our food and science programs this summer – fun, involved, and pulling in kids we don’t normally see.

Terra Nova: Archery Badge

Like our parkour program, we were able to set up an out-of-the-library experience with our teens AND partner with a local institution (the Archery Custom Shop) to do an archery workshop. Guys, it was SO GREAT.


Not only did we attract a couple of totally new teens I’d never met before (one of whom actually came to the library today, hooray), but we got to do something active that was also super fun. One of our girls was incredibly skeptical about doing a program that had no food component, but by the time our hour was up we had to practically drag her away!


I’m sure I’ve said it before, but making the effort to get our teens into the community and thinking about the library as a gateway to other kinds of activities has just been so awesome. We’ve done some totally new stuff, and I’ve been learning new things about kids I see every day (one of our boys is super into archery, and could even tell our instructor his preferred draw weight; I was deeply impressed).

Unfortunately, our summer program is drawing to a close – our finale party is on Saturday (which I will have to miss, since I’ll be at GenCon learning about how to gamify the classroom/library). Less unfortunately, I have a whole crop of new stuff planned for the school year, including a Pathfinder RPG group, teen-managed anime/manga club, and the return of my book clubs. Also a whole month of fandom-related activities, but I’ll tell you more about those when they’re a little closer.

Terra Nova: Esthetician Badge

We were very lucky to be able to mine other library staff for their talent this week – for our “Mondays are food” program, we had one of our wonderful pages guest-host a program on making our own skincare products out of edible ingredients (Franki has a small business she’s setting up and as soon as her Etsy store goes live I will post the link here).


We made a foot scrub, a face scrub, and a face mask, all mostly out of stuff you can find in the kitchen. I was impressed by how many of our participants were boys; I’m never a fan of gendering programs, but this one admittedly could have been seen as “girly;” however, as you can see from the photo, our guys were just as willing to mix up coconut oil and sea salt as our girls.


I don’t know, guys. It’s gonna be hard going back to the way things typically are once school is in session. We’ve been able to seriously diversify the teens that come to our programs; I’ve gotten to meet a bunch of kids who we just don’t see during the school year. Part of that is not being in school means there’s no homework or other extracurricular activities, of course, but it’s also the product of the fact that the culture in our teen room can be kind of unwelcome to newcomers (more on this later, probably). I know my supervisor and I are hoping to be able to carry over the way things have felt into the new year, and hopefully get things started off on the right foot.

Terra Nova: Strategist and Gastronomist Badges

Exciting times! Our Terra Nova program is proceeding exceedingly well; program attendance has been high all summer, and having dedicated days for different kinds of activities (Mondays are food, Tuesdays are crafts, Wednesdays are movies, etc.) has meant that we are also seeing a wider audience of teens than we do during the school year. It’s definitely given us a chance to meet more of our local teens, and hopefully build the foundations for them to continue coming to see us as the summer starts to wind down.

Last week was another program of my own conception, which I also put on without my supervisor as she had some unexpected vacation time come up. The program was Desktop Warfare, and I had some concerns about it (would building tiny catapults and slingshots end up with kids shooting thumbtacks at each other?), but they were unfounded – instead we had a half an hour of intense concentration and construction, followed by an exciting contest to see whose device could launch a crumpled paper ball the furthest. The winner got a pair of movie passes, generously provided by our local theater.

unnamedMy spoon catapult basically shot straight up.

I was really pleased with how this one turned out – I provided a couple of handouts with designs other people had built for everyone to use as a starting point, but mostly my group created their own devices and there was never any actual launching of pointy things at each other. Turns out the kind of teen to meticulously rubber-band pencils together for the right launching angle are not the same kind of teens that are prone to shooting pen inkwells at each other.

11265405_893434387396728_1774538122003628946_nFuture Engineers at work

Our most recent program was an experiment in a lot of ways – our weekly theme this week is Technological Development, so when we were planning our programming I spent some time researching simple/accessible molecular gastronomy recipes to see if we might be able to do any of them in the library. My supervisor was very taken with the idea and we ended up ordering a Beginner’s Kit, that came with some basic equipment and additives to do some of the simpler recipes. Our plan this week was to make fruit caviar, little “caviar” beads of gelatinized fruit juice, to build into parfaits.

11144987_895466713860162_4045608363865948009_nFood science at work

Unfortunately, our caviar beads never set properly, either due to temperatures not being exact or something else being out of whack. Fortunately, we all still had fun, and everyone got to build their parfait and enjoy a healthy snack even without the fruit caviar topping. There was so much interest in the process that we’re looking into creating a Molecular Gastronomy Kit that can be circulated, with a recipe book and the equipment we got in our kit. The only question is how we would handle the various powders that the recipes frequently need (agar to set gelatin, for example).