Escape Book Club Earns Award

Library volunteer and local educator Erin Irving and Kaltreider-Benfer Library Youth Services Coordinator Gina Meinl proudly show off their PA Library Association Best Practices Award for the Escape Book Club.

Kaltreider-Benfer Library won a Pennsylvania Library Association Best Practices Award in the School Age category for its Escape Book Club. The book club is geared to middle grade students and combines the escape room concept with a book, discussion, activities and a skype interview with the author.  The interactive program is run by North Hopewell Winterstown Elementary School Fourth-grade Teacher Erin Irving.  

We talked to youth services coordinator Gina Meinl about the program.

How did the Escape Book Club start?

Parents told us there was a need for a book club for middle grades kids. A lot of library programs focus on early education/young children, and older children can get left out of the conversation. The tie-in between escape rooms, which are very popular right now, and books is a great pairing and very engaging for this age group.

How does it work?

Each program runs for six weeks and the participants meet once a week. Participants range between 8 to 12 years old; we change it depending on the book chosen for that session. The kids read 4-5 chapters a week every week, and then meet and discuss what they’ve read. They also do games and activities related to what they’ve read.

Typically, during week four or five, they have the opportunity to Skype with and interview the author. During the final week, library volunteers set up an escape room based around the themes and images in the book.


What makes this program unique?

Besides the focus on this age group, the kids get a deeper appreciation for the process of writing by talking directly with the author. They build a connection with other kids their age, too. The program incorporates problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, reading, and reading comprehension. But it’s all in a fun, engaging way, so it’s not like homework.
Pictures and videos of the Skypes with the authors are things staff frequently goes back to—there is always lots of interest and engagement. We are surprised at how many kids return session after session.

What do you want people to know about this program?

The broad appeal of it—this brings together kids who are creatives, who are logicians, who are outspoken, who are shy, who are readers. It shows them how their differing strengths help the group succeed, despite those differences. It encourages reluctant readers to read, and kids who are reluctant with athletics to contribute in a physical way. It bridges a lot of gaps.

This program provides a focus on the connection between kids and books; kids and each other; kids and the library. It was inspired by a PALA meet-the-author event. The cost of an escape room kit is affordable, and the whole program is run by a volunteer, who is also an educator. 

Any surprises along the way?

We are shocked at its growth! Kaltreider-Benfer had to cap the number of spots available, it has been so popular. There is an almost entirely unspoken need for this age group.

When does it take place?

Currently, there are Summer and Winter sessions. The exact day of the week varies as needed. Since it is a continuous six weeks, we need to make sure the registrants can all come to as many of the sessions as possible.

How can people support it?

The Friends Group very generously supplies the books for the kids to read, but donations are always helpful. People can also volunteer at the library.

What do you think about winning this award?

We are really happy to be recognized. We knew it was a great program, but ‘award winning’?! Wow!