May 27, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Programming 101 | Cupcake Wars with Teens

Cupcakes decorated by teens at xxx Library's Cupcake Wars event. Photos courtesy of Donna Hutson.

Cupcakes decorated by teens at L.D. Fargo (WI) Public Library’s Cupcake Wars event. Photos courtesy of Donna Hutson.

You prep for weeks. You get all the supplies you need. You set up. Then only six kids attend, even though 20 signed up. What happened? Welcome to teen library programming.

Our Teenage Cupcake Wars event was one of the few that exceeded our attendance expectations.

The planning begins

Brianna Adams, our teen librarian at L.D. Fargo Public Library in Lake Mills, WI, was in charge of planning the event. She decided on the theme, the schedule, the prizes, and the guest speaker: Maria, a local baker and cake decorator.

A local baker was invited to demonstrate decorating techniques to the teens and to judge the contest.

A local baker was invited to demonstrate decorating techniques to the teens and to judge the contest.

Calls were made to determine the budget. We are very fortunate to live in a small community that supports our library. We also have a Friends of the Library group that contributes financially and volunteers.

About six weeks before the event, we posted a sign-up sheet in order to gauge interest and estimate supply needs. Publicity was done through our local newspapers, bulletin boards, and the monthly library calendar. We also advertised on our website and Facebook page, L.D. Fargo Teens.

About a week before the Teenage Cupcake Wars, Brianna collected the sign-up sheets, contacted the teens and a parent to confirm attendance, and then gathered supplies.

We used pre-baked cupcakes. If your library is equipped with a facility for baking, you could make this a two-day event—one day for baking and the next for cupcake decorating.

The event begins

teens with cupcakes_oMaria gave a demonstration of different techniques, such as making flowers, butterflies, balloons, and outlines. There was a table setup with toppings. The key is to have many choices—candy, cookies, sprinkles, crackers, pretzels, and marshmallows, for example.

The participants had 10 minutes to plan out each of their two cupcakes and to decorate them. Extra time was allotted to gather ideas based on YA books that were pulled by the teen librarian. The titles that were chosen served as inspiration for the teens’ “free choice” cupcake. The theme for the other cupcake was favorite books. The event’s judges included Maria, a member of the Friends of the Library, and a librarian (other than the teen librarian.)

decorations_cupcakeAfter brainstorming, the participants chose their icing flavors and toppings. They were told they were only allowed to go to the topping table twice, so their planning had to be precise. After the toppings were chosen, the creativity began and the books were taken away.

With five minutes left, a twist was introduced. The teens could make a third topping run! The finishing touches were made, the young adults were given a one-minute warning, and then the timer went off.

Another surprise for the participants was a first round of judging by peers. Judging your friends is a character-building skill promoting fairness and honesty, and our teens did not disappoint. They were supportive in their choices. (Numbered sticks were used for the voting.) The final round of judging was done by the adults while the teens left the room. Three winners were ultimately chosen. Each received beautifully decorated cupcakes made by Maria. All of the teens went home with their creations and a prize.

With the timer set, the creativity flows. Watching the teens work competitively, and as a team, was delightful.

Donna Hutson is a librarian at L.D. Fargo Public Library in Lake Mills, WI. Previously, she was an elementary school librarian for 20 years.



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  1. I love this! I used to do something similar with my Hunger Games Camp participants (in honor of Peeta!). Campers were divided into districts and had to decorate a cupcake to symbolize their district. This can work on so many levels for so many different themed programs: Valentine’s Day (or Pal-entine’s or Gal-entine’s), Harry Potter decorated for your house, connected with sports teams, favorite books, etc. It’s not that expensive and EVERYBODY LOVES CUPCAKES! One other thing: offer a gluten free cupcake, if possible and make sure attendees know it’s available in advance!

  2. This is such a great idea. I may do it sometime in May for a mother/daughter event. Thanks for the inspiration.