The Unbreakable Code, Sarah Hoagland Hunter, advanced picture book, book club for boys,

Update on Boys Book Club: What Worked and Didn’t Work

Code Breaking Book Club for Boys

I have to say that I am generally nervous each time I host a kids’ book club, more so than when I host a party. I don’t know but I think that I want so very much for the kids to love reading and for their book club to be their very favorite activity in the whole world! So, the pressure was on. I posted on preparing for the book club so if you are interested in duplicating it, please see that post.

Usually I organize the book club well in advance, but this one I didn’t because I decided to make a de-coding group scavenger hunt so I needed to hide the loot the day of.

The Unbreakable Code by Sara Hoagland Hunter, illustrated by Julia Miner

The Unbreakable Code, Sarah Hoagland Hunter, advanced picture book, book club for boys,

Here’s your shopping list if you want to try this book club:

  • Copy The Cypher Wheel onto stiffer card stock, one per child a few extra in case of mishaps. I used Staples copy center.
  • Brads, one per child. Those are those brass thing-a-ma-bobs that come 100 in a tiny box. I got them at Staples too. Note that you don’t need a hole punch. I bought a single one but it’s too short to actually work.
  • Scissors, one pair per child.
  • Stuff for prizes that are small and easy to hide. I used candy (Jolly Ranchers and Hershey Kisses, plus small boxes of Jolly Ranchers Chewy as the grand prize — one for each kid).
  • Brown paper bags, one per child for them to keep their loot. Please label them.
  • Snack for the kids.
  • Pens and pads of paper for each child.
  • small bowls, spoons, toothpicks: one per child to mix the invisible ink.
  • baking soda, bowl of water, tablespoon to measure equal parts water to baking soda.
  • light source to hold paper over like a desk lamp.
To do in advance of the book club:
  • Make clues.
  • Put in clear baggies with handful of candy if you wish.
  • Hide the clues.
I made 8 clues and it took a good hour to decode and find the loot.
Here are samples:
1) A=V
O E H S (unscramble the word)
G V A W X U D decode
Clue: Shoe Cabinet where I hit the clue in a drawer. I made the boys take turns searching one section of the shoe armoire in our hallway to prevent mayhem.
2) A=P
Decode and scramble the word. I also drew a picture of a cabinet as a clue.
Clue: RICE. I hid the clue in a bag of rice.
3) A=T
just decode
Clue: POTS, I hid the clue in a cooking pot
4) A= L
I drew three piano keys (two white ones with a black one above). I drew an arrow from the black key to the clue. When the boys solved the clue: BLACK, I had them color in the black square and guess what it was. They guessed a few times before realizing it was part of a piano keyboard. I hid the clue in the piano bench.
5) A = D
E C B N H, here they need to unscramble the word but I forgot to tell them and they decoded it. Oops! My bad!
P T B V C Y G F T, they need to decode this
Clue: Bench Vestibule. We have a bench in our vestibule that has a lift up seat. I hid it in there.
Tips and Tricks for a Smooth Book Club That I Learned The Hard Way:
  • The Cypher Wheel is very confusing. The yellow wheel needs to be set at the arrow to the letter, then it needs to STAY THERE. A= F, for example, all the codes are when the A is set to the F on the marigold colored outer ring. For the first clue, make sure that every kid knows how the decoder works.
  • Some kids are faster at decoding which caused my son to have a meltdown mid-book club. Put one child in charge of each clue and make sure you have an even amount of clues to go around. This child is in charge of the decoding. He calls out each letter to be decoded and writes it down. He can also lead the team to the spot to search for the clue.
  • If you don’t want the boys sugared up, you can hide the clues and use one small toy per child as the finale. Sadly, I set a precedent that book club = candy.
  • For the final activity, the boys mixed the invisible ink solution and each boy went off to hide the prize. He then gave his clue to a boy and made sure the child found the prize. At this point, the moms were here and I chatted with them. The boys were able to do this independently. I let them do any kind of clue they wanted. One boy did pig latin, for example. I think using the decoder too!
I do feel that a huge bonus to the book club is learning group dynamics. It’s important to take turns being the leader and the follower. It also was a happy surprise that the boys returned to the dining room table after each clue to solve it.
I actually needed to be there to help — sometimes I made an error writing the code! Another time, my mishap was that there were 5 words that the unscrambled word could make. Oops, did not realize that! But I thought that having boys alternate between active and table work was the perfect mix for little boys.
The next day, my son asked me if we had a book club next week AND one little boy brought a code book to school. I also heard that the third boy played with his Decoder Cypher Wheel at home. Yay! A victory for literacy!
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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. yeah, success! & what a great activity – love it!!
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  2. Dee

    Wow – sounds like a great success! If I didn’t already have scouts to lead, I’d probably try this.
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  3. Ann

    Definite victory! What a GREAT mom you are! Awesome way to get kids excited about reading!!! I am going to bookmark this post for when my son gets older.

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