Library Program: Where Things Come Back Scavenger Hunt

For Read Across Lawrence, our community-wide reading program, we’re doing a teen book for the first time. We selected one of my favorites, Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley. When pitching the books to readers, I’ve been saying “it’s about a small town where a woodpecker thought to be extinct is sighted, and everyone starts going crazy looking for it, but at the same time, a boy’s brother goes missing, and he’s struggling with the loss.”

While the book is ultimately about second chances and hope, it’s also about looking for things we’ve lost. So obviously we had to do a scavenger hunt.

The scavenger hunt had two tracks. Participants could either search for Gabriel or the Lazarus Woodpecker. Each group received a sheet with eight clues on it that directed them to locations around downtown Lawrence. The library is downtown, and the entirety of what is considered downtown runs north and south from 6th street (the river) through 12th streets (a big park) and east and west just three blocks. So with eight clues that lead groups to different locations spread throughout downtown, it took about an hour for the hunt, on average. Luckily the weather cooperated, and we had a warm (for February) and sunny day!

We partnered with several downtown businesses to serve as stops on the hunt, and the rest of the clues were in public parks. (there are several within the downtown walking area). One clue directed patrons to our local comic shop, where the owner gave away a free comic, another lead them  inside our local record shop, where they found a zombie cardboard stand holding the clue (really, if you’ve read the book, it makes sense). They also found a clue in our local soda shop and a cookie shop.

The clues were riddles—some were a rebus, some were a sort of math problem that when worked out, gave the address, and many were references to the book. At each location, there was a sign that gave a phrase from a larger quote from the book. Then participants had to put the phrases in order.

We had a grand prize drawing for a zombie book and plush doll and gift certificates for all successful participants, but everyone who participated got a comic and a cookie.

These are my favorite type of programs to do, because they bring literature to life and get teens out into the community and using their problem solving skills. They are time-consuming to put together, seeing the teens get excited about figuring out the clues is completely worth it.

I’ve done several scavenger hunt programs at the library. Some have been passive programs that can be completed anytime on one’s own, like my art in the city scavenger hunts. I also put together a “treasure hunt” for a previous children’s book selection for RAL, Turtle in Paradise that focused on local history and connected to the story. With a YALSA Teen Read Week grant, we put together a Choose Your Own Apocalypse scavenger hunt.

We’re going to be putting together a toolkit with advice for planning scavenger hunts as library programs, and possibly presenting about it in the future. These can be adapted for any budget or scaled for any space or size of library or community. They work really well as inter-generational programs for families. If you do one in your library, I’d love to hear about it!

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