This program was for children in grades K-2, and our Junior Detectives had a crime to solve. As the children came in to the room, we played several brain teasers to get our detective juices flowing. I had a table of books on display in the corner of our room. While the kids were busy trying to solve the brain teasers, I had three different co-workers enter the room at different times. Each of them carried a tote bag and casually went over to the display table to view the books. Only one of them took a book from the table, leaving behind two folded notes.
Once the group had finished solving a few brain teasers (and once all three suspects had exited the room), I went over to the display table and announced that a book had been stolen! I asked whether the children had seen anyone come into the room, and they answered that they had (thankfully no one knew right away who had taken the book). Together we compiled a list of what we could remember of each suspect: what were they wearing, what they looked like, etc. I turned the board around to reveal a picture of each of the three people who had been in the room, along with a brief description of them. The suspects were:
- Candy Johnson, a chef with a loop fingerprint.
- Sarah Stego, a paleontologist with a loop fingerprint.
- Jessica Bolt, a track coach with a whorl fingerprint.
After creating the suspect list, I shared the first note I had found with them. It was an encrypted note printed from Martha Stewart (a template for a save-the-date, if you can believe it!). There was also a fingerprint on the back of this note. This then naturally led to each of the stations that I had set up in the program room.
Decoding Station: Kids used a magnifying glass covered in red film (found at the dollar store and cut to fit inside the magnifying glass) to decode the message. The message read, “I am holding this book hostage. You must pay me one thousand dollars by midnight or I will destroy this book!”. After they had decoded the note, they went to the Fingerprint station.
Fingerprint Station: At this station, I had each of them practice taking their own fingerprint. I showed them the three different types of fingerprint patterns that people can have, and then I asked them if they knew which fingerprint was on the back of the note. Everyone determined that it was a loop, which meant Jessica Bolt could be crossed off the list of possible suspects.
Code-Breaking Station: I now shared the second piece of paper that the suspect had dropped. It was a printed catalog record for a book in our library titled “Bizarre Dinosaurs”. On the back of that paper, there was a handwritten note which read “6-9-14-4 20-8-9-19 2-15-15-11! 19.19.” I showed the kids a popular code which links each letter of the alphabet to a different number. A=1, B=2, C=3, etc. Once they had the hang of that, they broke the code and discovered that the hidden message read: “Find this book! S.S.”
With this clue, the kids came running back to the suspect board to see if they could solve the mystery. The book was about dinosaurs, and one of the suspects was a paleontologist. The initials were also S.S., which pointed to one suspect: Sarah Stego. The kids had solved the crime!
After they solved the mystery, I told them how proud I was that they had figured it out, and that they were now bonafide spies. I had one station remaining for them to visit.
Disguise & ID Station: As true detectives, they got to make an identification card, with their secret agent name and their fingerprint. They also got to choose a disguise; either a moustache or a pair of lips that they glued on to a popsicle stick.
This program was so much fun for everyone involved, and the kids couldn’t stop talking about it. If you’re looking for more ideas on spy programs at the library, check out this post by Future Librarian Superhero on an entire spy week, Spy Science by LibriErin, Spy School by Bryce Don’t Play, and Spy Night by the Neighborhood Librarian.