Bookshelf Treasure Hunt

Have bookshelf, will adventure! Even the smallest shelf can be used to create clues leading to a final treasure. Best of all, this journey can be adjusted to any age level, requires no special materials, and is very budget friendly!

Before we proceed, it’s important to make the distinction between a bookshelf scavenger hunt and a bookshelf treasure hunt. A scavenger hunt involves finding a specific list of items on the shelves (ex: “A blue book” or “A book with a person’s name in the title”). A treasure hunt begins with an initial clue, which leads to more clues that proceed in sequential order to a final prize. That’s what we’ll be focusing on today. A treasure hunt.

treasure hint 2

The biggest bookshelves are in our living room, so I set my treasure hunt there. This 9 clue hunt was designed for my 9 year old daughter. In addition to books, I used objects on the shelves. You can also do this activity with a smaller shelf, books laid out on a table, span it across multiple shelves in the house, or hide individual books around the entire house. It’s very flexible! The only materials I used were paper, scissors, and tape. I typed my clues, but you can hand write them as well.

I hid Clue #1 under my daughter’s lunch plate. When she lifted it to clear her place, she immediately spotted a mysterious folded note with question marks. It read: Ready for a treasure hunt? Head to the living room bookshelves. The unicorn will start you on your way…

She immediately knew what the clue was referencing. I love collecting original art from thrift stores, so here’s the unicorn from the clue. Lifting the painting, Clue #2 was revealed, cut in the shape of a unicorn speech bubble.

It read: “My friend the dragon has been captured! Can you free him? Oh, and you’ll need to bring some chewing gum, ribbons, and lollipops for the tigers, lion, and crocodiles!” This is reference to My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. Inside that book, may daughter found Clue #3: TIME WILL TELL. This lead her to our shelf clock with a message sneakily taped to its back:

The clue read: Would you want a little brother like this? Hint: He’s NOT sweet like his name! This lead to one of her favorite books, Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. Inside was Clue #4: Third red book from the left. By the way, you might like this series! A bit of maneuvering and counting led to The Anybodies by N.E. Bode. Also, Clue #5, which was a foray into Mom’s non-fiction section: No one knows his name, but everyone sees his art

My daughter recognized the reference, and located Banksy: You Are An Acceptable Level Of Threat And If You Were Not You Would Know About It by CarpetBombingCulture. Inside, Clue #6 read: 1 shelf over 2 shelves up. Find a KINGDOM. The search resulted in The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle plus Clue #7: Upwards! A…B…and behind C!

So, my daughter reports that Clue #7 was definitely the most difficult one. I had to drop one hint (“It says ABC”). But it was awesome to see her start working out that the clue referred to the large letters of three book titles on the upper shelf: Abarat by Clive Barker; Black Duck by Janet Taylor Lisle; and The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (who I interview here!).

Clever girl figured it out, and was awarded with Clue #8, which read: The most secret place on the bookshelf. Hint: A mouse resides in it! Seconds later, she was opening a fake-bookcase-secret-liquor-cabinet. It’s one of my favorite yard sale finds, ever.

Inside was tiny heart card that contained Clue #9: What’s new in your room? There, my daughter found two new books illuminated by her nightstand lamp: When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed; and The Misadventures oft the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy.

This treasure hunt was fun, and very easy to put together. A couple of hints:

  • I started with books my daughter was already familiar with to get things rolling, then introduced new books I hope she’ll browse later.
  • I put the clues in the same place in every book, so she would know where to look each time. If you want to extend the time of your hunt, place the clues on random pages.
  • With the exception of the clock clue, I kept everything at eye level. You especially want to do this with younger kids. You don’t want them climbing, searching, and reaching all at the same time. They might topple over in their excitement.
  • For older kids, consider including additional codes and ciphers to translate the clues (mirror writing is a great option, and I love the pigpen cipher from this MYSTERY CLOSET post).
  • The treasure doesn’t have to be budget busting. It can be a pack of new pens, books checked out from your local library, a bit of extra dessert, or a message that simply says “Well done!”
  • Once your child completes the bookshelf treasure hunt, invite them to design one for YOU. My daughter currently has one in the works!

By the way, I hid something in this post for you as well…did you notice there was ONE photo that had nothing to do with the original treasure hunt or the clues? If you guessed the second photo, you are correct! In it, you’ll see my old, beat-up globe resting on a book recommendation for your young readers. The Last Treasure by Janet S. Anderson. It’s a fantastic story about a kid who gets involved in a treasure hunt that stretches far into his family tree, an expansive estate, and a very tricky set of clues (some rather dangerous!). What he discovers is historical, amazing, and touching.

Other treasure-hunting books residing on my home shelves over the years include: The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn by John Bellairs; The Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (interview here); Who Stole the Wizard of Oz by Avi; Addison Cooke and the Treasure of the Incas by Jonathan W. Stokes (project here); Jeremy Fink and The Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass (interview here); Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans (project here, interview here); and Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez (interview here).

And while most readers would technically classify this book as a scavenger hunt, I would be remiss not to mention Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein!


In accordance with State and Princeton University measures to contain the spread of coronavirus, the gallery of the Cotsen Children’s Library is closed until further notice, and our children’s programming as been suspended during this closure. Until our library reopens, the blog will post once a week. So every Tuesday, please check in to see what we’re up to…from story time projects to awesome interviews!

Puppy Post!

Dogs truly are a person’s best friend. But what happens when a dog desperately needs a new person to love and call their own? Why not say it with this postbox and letter set, designed by Katie, and delivered by a very special addition to her family!

We recommend reading Can I Be Your Dog?, written and illustrated by Troy Cummings (Random House, 2018 – read here by Read Aloud Book Family). Arfy is a homeless dog searching for a new family to love. He sends charming letters to several families living on Butternut Street, but he always gets turned down and sent away. Until one day, Arfy gets his own piece of mail from someone who was looking for a dog, just like him!

You’ll need:

  • 1 small tissue box
  • Construction paper
  • A box cutter
  • Ribbon (or string)
  • Scissor and tape for construction
  • Markers for decorating

Katie followed the same design concept for the mailbox we created for this storytime project, with some minor modifications. Cut approximately 1″ off the top of a small tissue box, as well as a door in one side. Next, use construction paper to cover the box and add a rounded top with a mail slot. Use additional pieces of construction paper to create letters for the box!

In order to make this project puppy post-friendly, Katie omitted the door handle and foam bead feet. Instead, she cut 4 small slits on the the bottom of the box and thread the ends of 2 pieces of ribbon (each approximately 20″ long) through the slits like so:

Now, four loose ends of ribbon will be sticking out of the bottom of the box. Tie those ends around your dog’s harness (or around their body) and trim off the extra.

Drop a letter into the mailbox, and send them off to deliver the special note!


The handsome pooch starring in this post is Katie’s new furry friend, Finley! Finley is a rescue dog from the great state of Texas. He’s settled in comfortably into his new house in New Jersey with Katie and her family. He has a “ruff” life, that’s for sure.

If you don’t have a dog in your house who is willing to wear a Puppy Post mailbox, that’s totally okay! You can simply enlist a favorite stuffed animal to deliver the letters… announcing the inaugural ARMADILLO AIRMAIL!

Home for Halloween

jack o lanternIt might be a smaller, simpler Halloween this year, but that doesn’t mean it has to be any less spirited (oooo bad pun alert!). We decided to do a round up of our Halloween posts for you to peruse, just in case you needed some projects, activities, costumes, or inspiration. But if you are just here to see Katie’s ingenious candy chute, scroll to the end of the post!


Above you see our cute toilet paper roll pumpkin project (bonus…the project is reversible, so no toilet paper wasted), but here’s a variation on it, using a balloon and an LED light. You might try this little lantern project, or go for this spooky votive castle

illuminated castle tissue box

For those of you looking for projects to do at home with limited materials, we recommend this printable skeleton marionette, or this simple but adorable paperclip skeleton:

el esqueleto

You can also try our hanging bat STEAM project, or this adorable ghost box (pair with a story time book and hide and seek game if you’d like)…

ghostbusters

Or make your very own shoulder raven! (and meet the REAL Poe raven here):

dr. dana as poe

Looking for a slightly more complicated project with a big WOW factor? Try this tabletop Pepper’s Ghost box, which can be constructed with items in your home, promise!

seeing spirits

For your costuming needs, we invite you to check out our thrift store costume challenge, where we basically pulled stuff from an average closet to create literary characters…

dolores-umbridge-costume

And here’s our Top 20 literary halloween costumes (the hobbits! the hobbits!), character makeup transformations, and some historic makeovers that will wow ’em at those Zoom Halloween gatherings!

model 5

For those of you wishing to ramp it up a notch, how about recreating our Dracula escape room? You’ll find a full breakdown here, including the puzzles and props we used…

full dracula room shot 3

For the younger kiddos we offer this box haunted house with ghost-hunting activity. No box? No problem! Drape a large table with a cloth and you’re set!

i-aint-afraid-of-no-ghost

If you’d like to keep it all virtual this year, try our online Sherlock Holmes escape room, take a look at some historic book curses, or enjoy our interview with this pumpkin carving master!

And finally…drum roll please…for Halloween 2020, check out Katie’s candy chute for the socially distanced trick or treaters! She constructed it with a 5″ HVAC tube, a pool noodle, and orange and black duct tape. The chute is about 5.5 feet long, which is perfect for distributing goodies to eager ghosts and goblins. I also want to confirm for the world: yes, Katie will be offering packets of Fun Dip this year. Oh YEAH!

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