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Teen Programming: Books to Movies

by Nanci Milone Hill

*This article originally appeared in the September 2013 issue of RA News. Subscribe to RA News and any of our other newsletters.*

Teens are often an enigma. It takes careful observation to tie programming into what’s trendy at any given time. While running a teen book group at your library might not yield results, connecting books to popular movies, television shows, or gaming, is a win-win. They are already excited about the subject, which brings them into the library for programming, and sometimes, even leads them to pick up the book, which, let’s face it – librarians know is always better. There are other benefits as well. A boost in teen engagement at the library brings with it positive attention from library administration, local community leaders, and your local Friends group. These stakeholders are interested in numbers and level of engagement. Proof that your YA programming is increasing both provides you with the facts you need to ask for more funding.

Try some creative book-based programming to engage your teen patrons and boost community interest in your library’s work. Here are some book-to-movie ideas to get you started:

Several years ago at the Nevins Memorial Library (Methuen, Massachusetts), my colleagues and I put together a Twilight-themed program for the week before the film's debut. We hosted a trivia contest and gave away $600 worth of Twilight-themed prizes throughout the night. Eighty-eight teens attended -- a success virtually unheard of in the history of our teen programming. Our Director was so thrilled that eighty-eight teens -- boys and girls -- had shown up for a book-based program that she said she wouldn't have cared if we'd spent $1,000 on prizes!

The next year, we did something similar for the theatrical release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Teens were encouraged to attend dressed as their favorite character from the book; we sorted participants into their Hogwarts Houses, and hosted a trivia contest. We also gave out Potter-themed prizes and enjoyed Potter-inspired treats at the event. Again, patron response was phenomenal.

Teen Librarian Darsana Barua at the Boxford Town Library (Boxford, Massachusetts) ran a Hunger Games program just before the movie's DVD release. She invited a local archery instructor to give a demonstration and let the participants try their aim. The crowd then watched the DVD together while enjoying pizza, chips, and soft drinks. The archery demo was also a great draw for adults, including one of the town’s prominent officials, who implored us to start an adult archery program. It’s possible that we got more publicity -- and bang for our buck -- out of that program than almost any other program we ran there.

This year has provided librarians with a plethora of books-to-movies that provide worthy fodder for teen programming. I hope that you will consider one of the following for your library.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
ISBN: 9780545310598

Catching Fire, the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy, finds Katniss and Peeta on a Victory Tour of the Districts -- but not before being warned by President Snow that he will be watching them very closely. Before long, Snow announces that the duo must now fight a deadly new event, the Quarter Quell. Get teens psyched about the book with a tie-in to Catching Fire's movie release! If you don't have a local archery expert to call on, have a Wii Archery Tournament instead. Bookstore owner Elizabeth Bluemle describes their successful 2009 Catching Fire party in Publisher’s Weekly: participants signed up as "tributes," chose their District, and competed in puzzle solving, knot-tying, WII archery, and more to win books and other prizes.


City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
ISBN: 9781416914280

Angels, Demons, and Vampires -- Oh my! In this first novel in Clare’s Mortal Instruments series, Fifteen-year-old Clary Fray is introduced to the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to protecting humans from demons, after her mother disappears. This book-turned-movie provides a jumping off point for a variety of teen programs.

The official website for the film suggests a book trivia challenge; a quiz to find out which alliance you are; and an app to help you create your own meme. Any of these could provide a jumping off point for programming. The Librarian Toolbox offers other ideas, including an indoor obstacle course to have your mortals prove they are Shadowhunter material; a costume contest; a runes drawing contest; and bringing someone in to do temporary tattoos.

Looking to do things on a smaller budget? Mix 1 package of orange kool aid, one drop of green food coloring, and one cup of water. Have the teens paint temporary rune tattoos on their hands. These will last for at least one week. Another idea is to have a list of problems for your teens to solve. Like Clary in the novel, have them draw runes to solve each problem. Finally, you could discuss the origin of angels, demons, vampires, and other paranormal creatures from the book.

The Sea Monsters by Rick Riordin
ISBN: 9781423103349

In this sequel to Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, Camp Half-Blood is under attack, and Percy Jackson must get his hands on the Golden Fleece in order to save it – and everyone in it. 

Riordin’s series provides a variety of themes to tie into your programming. Have participants come dressed as their favorite character from Greek mythology and give a prize for the best costume. If your budget allows, you could bring in someone to teach teens how to draw creatures from the sea. Why not show the Animal Planet documentary, Mermaids: the Body Found and debate the existence of mermaids? What teen doesn’t love playing with their food? Bring in all kinds of snack foods and have them make sushi out of them! Perhaps a viewing of The Lightening Thief for those that haven’t yet seen it, or want to catch up before the release of The Sea Monsters might be appropriate.

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
ISBN: 9781476717463

Your teens may have already seen the movie, but zombies and zombie related programs are always a big hit with this age group. I’ve seen a successful program where the teens formed teams to save the library from zombies. Darsana Barua and Anna Call from the Boxford Town Library prepared scenarios that participants had to face in order to save the library from a zombie attack. The duo went out of their way, recording sound effects and dressing the library up for the event, which was held after hours. They also designed Zombie Apocalypse Survivor stickers for each teen who participated.

The Center for Disease Control has put together a Zombie Apocalypse Preparedness Program that you can adapt to use with your teens as well. They provide zombie posters, an online novella that you can discuss, and a zombie blog.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
ISBN: 9780743273565

This classic title still appears on school summer reading lists across the country. Now that the film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio is out, you can help your teens get into the book by moving beyond its pages. Why not show the DVD and then have them compare the book and the film? Teens can come dressed in 1920s style outfits and sip on “champagne” from plastic flutes. You can play music from the era while they mingle.



A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
ISBN: 9780553573404

Some time ago, Aspasia Luster from the August Public Library in August, Georgia, asked members of the PubLib discussion group for programming ideas around the popular Game of Thrones books and television series. Aspasia’s program was for adults but I see no reason why older teens would not also be interested. Aspasia had participants wear the sigil of their favorite house and took photos of each participant, later Photoshopping attendees on the throne. She displayed family trees for decorations and served food from the Game of Thrones Cookbook. They also had a debate on the merits of the novels and the television series. Since the popular novel has also been made into a graphic novel, you could bring in someone to help teens draw their favorite character from the novel. For some extra fun, you could have the teens build paper-mache thrones.

These are just a few ideas that you might want to try with your teens, but many other books can provide fodder for programming as well. Steampunk and Science Fiction continue to be popular topics. Why not hold a Steampunk Festival to promote the titles in your collection? Encourage participants to come dressed in steampunk costumes.

Vampires have been hot with teens since Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight, but there are lots of other great paranormal books out there as well. P.C. Cast’s House of Night series, for example, puts a new spin on the vampire myth with a world populated not just by humans but by vampyres as well. Matsuri Hino’s Vampire Knight graphic novel series might appeal to artistic teens, and is a good starting point for a graphic novel club, but there are also popular novels with angels, zombies, and faeries as main characters.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be as knowledgeable about what interests your teen patrons, whether it's movies, games, or music. Know all about it, and then present add-on activities for live-action role-playing or programming that brings them out of what they know and introduces them to what can be.

Nanci Milone Hill is the current Director of the M.G. Parker Memorial Library, in Dracut, Massachusetts. You can reach her at