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The Best Illinois Kids Books

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The House That Jane Built
Written by Tanya Lee Stone & illustrated by Kathryn Brown
picture book
Recommend Ages: 6-9

This is the story of Jane Addams, the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, who transformed a poor neighborhood in Chicago by opening up her house as a community center.

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Abraham Lincoln
Written by Ingri D'Aulaire & illustrated by Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
picture book
Recommend Ages: 9-11

Not since 1957 have d’Aulaire fans been able to enjoy the beauty of the stone lithographic work that earned these beloved author-artists the prestigious Caldecott Medal in 1940. Now, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of their Caldecott Medal award, and marking a century and a half of emancipation, readers young and old will delight in this biography of America’s most beloved President. Beautiful Feet Books worked with Timothy Young, curator of Beinecke Rare Books and Manuscript Collection at Yale University Library, to restore the original art through brand new reproductions of the 1939 lithographic proofs. Abraham Lincoln continues to stand as America’s most beloved President. Of our nation’s historical icons, Lincoln is the quintessential embodiment of American possibility in his mythic-like rise from rail-splitter to Chief Executive and Emancipator of the oppressed. The admiration felt by Americans for Lincoln’s humble integrity, his noble statesmanship, and his keen sense of justice, is beautifully captured in the d’Aulaires’ art and prose.

From Publishers Weekly, 2015: “Beautiful Feet Books has made minor modifications to the original art and text to reflect contemporary views about race politics and to reflect historical accuracy, citing two instances in the book, including one of a Native American cowering behind Lincoln, which they fixed to have him standing erect. Another is when Lincoln is walking down the streets, with freed slaves bowing down to him. The original text didn’t mention that he didn’t want them bowing down to him,” said Berg. “The original didn’t say that he actually shook hands with them. So we altered his face and made him shake hands with the former slaves and added in what he actually said in the historical record, which was, ‘Do not kneel to me.’” In the introduction to the 75th-anniversary edition, curator Young calls Abraham Lincoln a prime example of what was produced during what many people call the golden age of the American picture book. Young highlights the amount of detailed work that went into the making of the book and wants readers to remember that even the most simple books for children are never simply made.

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Ghost Boys
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12
A heartbreaking and powerful story about a black boy killed by a police officer, drawing connections through history, from award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes.
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Becoming: Adapted for Young Readers
Written by Michelle Obama
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-
Michelle Obama's worldwide bestselling memoir, Becoming, is now adapted for young readers.
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Fiona's Lace
Written & illustrated by Patricia Polacco
picture book
Recommend Ages: 4-8

An Irish family stays together with the help of Fiona’s talent for making one-of-a-kind lace in this heartwarming immigration story from the <i>New York Times </i>bestselling creator of <i>The Keeping Quilt</i>. <p/>Many years ago, times were hard in all of Ireland, so when passage to America becomes available, Fiona and her family travel to Chicago. They find work in domestic service to pay back their passage, and at night Fiona turns tangles of thread into a fine, glorious lace. Then when the family is separated, it is the lace that Fiona’s parents follow to find her and her sister and bring the family back together. And it is the lace that will always provide Fiona with memories of Ireland and of her mother’s words: “In your heart your true home resides, and it will always be with you as long as you remember those you love.” <p/>This generational story from the family of Patricia Polacco’s Irish father brims with the same warmth and heart as the classic <i>The Keeping Quilt </i>and <i>The Blessing Cup</i>, which <i>Kirkus Reviews </i>called “deeply affecting” in a starred review, and embraces the comfort of family commitment and togetherness that Patricia Polacco’s books are known for.

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  • Scritch Scratch - For fans of Small Spaces comes a chilling ghost story about a malevolent spirit, an unlucky girl, and a haunting mystery that will tie the two together.

  • Finding Langston - A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year, with 5 Starred Reviews, and a School Library Journal Best Book of 2018 When eleven-year-old Langston’s father moves them from their home in Alabama to Chicago’s Bronzeville district, it feels like he’s giving up everything he loves. It’s 1946. Langston’s mother has just died, and now they’re leaving the rest of his family and friends. He misses everything– Grandma’s Sunday suppers, the red dirt roads, and the magnolia trees his mother loved. In the city, they live in a small apartment surrounded by noise and chaos. It doesn’t feel like a new start, or a better life. At home he’s lonely, his father always busy at work; at school he’s bullied for being a country boy. But Langston’s new home has one fantastic thing. Unlike the whites-only library in Alabama, the Chicago Public Library welcomes everyone. There, hiding out after school, Langston discovers another Langston–a poet whom he learns inspired his mother enough to name her only son after him. Lesa Cline-Ransome, author of the Coretta Scott King Honor picture book Before She Was Harriet, has crafted a lyrical debut novel about one boy’s experiences during the Great Migration. Includes an author’s note about the historical context and her research. Winner of the 2019 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction A Junior Library Guild selection!

  • I Survived the Great Chicago Fire, 1871 - Could an entire city really burn to the ground?

  • Firestorm! - Twelve-year-old Poppy is an orphan living in a bad neighborhood in Chicago, pick pocketing so that she has a place to sleep at night. Justin’s world couldn’t be more different—his father owns a jewelry store—but when he and Poppy meet, they become fast friends, thanks in part to Justin’s sweet pet goat. Through their friendship, Poppy realizes that she doesn’t want to be a thief anymore and she begins to feel like she may have a place with Justin’s family. But when Justin makes an expensive mistake at his father’s store, Poppy is immediately blamed. In response, she flees . . . right into the Great Chicago Fire. Poppy and Justin must rely on their instincts if they are going to survive the catastrophe. Will anything be left when the fire finally burns out?

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Coming on Home Soon
Written by Jacqueline Woodson & illustrated by E.B. Lewis
picture book
Recommend Ages: 5-8

Ada Ruth’s mama must go away to Chicago to work, leaving Ada Ruth and Grandma behind. It’s war time, and women are needed to fill the men’s jobs. As winter sets in, Ada Ruth and her grandma keep up their daily routine, missing Mama all the time. They find strength in each other, and a stray kitten even arrives one day to keep them company, but nothing can fill the hole Mama left. Every day they wait, watching for the letter that says Mama will be coming on home soon. Set during World War II, Coming On Home Soon has a timeless quality that will appeal to all who wait and hope.

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The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

One summer. One girl. One plan. Inspired by her late grandmother, Nina Ross sets out to do 65 anonymous good things for her family and neighbors, one for each day of summer vacation, to find out if doing good actually does any good. But things don’t turn out exactly as she envisioned.

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A Year Down Yonder
Written by Richard Peck
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

During the recession of 1937, fifteen-year-old Mary Alice is sent to live with her feisty, larger-than-life grandmother in rural Illinois and comes to a better understanding of this fearsome woman. A Newbery Medal Winner & ALA Notable Book. Reprint.

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Ambrose Deception
Written by & illustrated by Gilbert Ford
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-12

Melissa is a nobody. Wilf is a slacker. Bondi is a show-off. At least that’s what their middle school teachers think. To everyone’s surprise, they are the three students chosen to compete for a ten thousand-dollar scholarship, solving clues that lead them to various locations around Chicago. At first the three contestants work independently, but it doesn’t take long before each begins to wonder whether the competition is a sham. It’s only by secretly joining forces and using their unique talents that the trio is able to uncover the truth behind the Ambrose Deception – a truth that involves a lot more than just a scholarship. <p/> With a narrative style as varied and intriguing as the mystery itself, this adventure involving clever clues, plenty of perks, and abhorrent adults is pure wish fulfillment.

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The Westing Game
Written & illustrated by Ellen Raskin
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 10-14

A bizarre chain of events begins when sixteen unlikely people gather for the reading of Samuel W. Westing’s will. And though no one knows why the eccentric, game-loving millionaire has chosen a virtual stranger—and a possible murderer—to inherit his vast fortune, on things for sure: Sam Westing may be dead…but that won’t stop him from playing one last game!

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  • Maya and the Rising Dark - In this highly anticipated contemporary fantasy, twelve-year-old Maya's search for her missing father puts her at the center of a battle between our world, the Orishas, and the mysterious and sinister Dark world. Perfect for fans of

  • Emmi in the City: A Great Chicago Fire Survival Story - Although Emmi has lived in Chicago for two years, she finds it hard to love her adopted city. As a German immigrant in the early 1870s, she’s often teased by her America-born peers. But when the Great Fire breaks out on October 8, 1871, Emmi and her enemies find themselves braving the smoke and flames together. Can Emmi and the others survive the danger to escape the burning city? Readers can learn the real story of the Great Chicago Fire from the nonfiction back matter in this Girls Survive story. A glossary, discussion questions, and writing prompts are also provided.

  • Sahara Special - Sahara Jones is going into fifth grade-again. Although she won’t be “Sahara Special” anymore (special needs, that is), she doesn’t expect this year to be any better than last year. Fifth grade is going to be different, though, because Sahara’s class is getting a new teacher: Miss Pointy. From her eggplant-colored lipstick to the strange subjects she teaches, like “Puzzling” and “Time Travel,” she is like no other teacher Sahara has ever known. With Miss Pointy’s help, Sahara just might find a way to redefine special for herself.<br>The latest chapter in her book unfolds when her mother insists that she be taken out of special Ed. So Sahara is facing fifth grade in the regular classroom, again. But why even try to do the work, Sahara wonders, if everything just winds up in the counselor’s file?<br>Enter Miss Pointy, the new fifth-grade teacher. With her eggplant-colored lipstick, and strange subjects such as “Puzzling” and “Time Travel,” she’s like no other teacher Sahara has ever known. Through Miss Pointy’s unusual teaching, storytelling, and quiet support, Sahara finds the courage to overcome her fears and prove which file shows her true self.

  • A Long Way from Chicago - A boy recounts his annual summer trips to rural Illinois with his sister during the Great Depression to visit their larger-than-life grandmother.

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The Wright 3
Written by Blue Balliett & illustrated by Brett Helquist
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

In the midst of a series of unexplained accidents and mysterious coincidences, sixth-graders Calder, Petra, and Tommy lead their classmates in an attempt to keep Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous Robie House from being demolished.

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Doodleville
Written & illustrated by Chad Sell
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12
For fans of Svetlana Chmakova's Awkward and Raina Telgemeier's Smile comes an inventive new story from Cardboard Kingdom creator Chad Sell about a group of young artists who must work together when one of their own creations becomes a monster.
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Hold Fast
Written by Blue Balliett
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12
From NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author Blue Balliett, the story of a girl who falls into Chicago's shelter system, and from there must solve the mystery of her father's strange disappearance.
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History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes
Written by & illustrated by Alex Graudins
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 9-13

In History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire, writer Kate Hannigan and illustrator Alex Graudins tell the true story of how a city rose up from one of the worst catastrophes in American history, and how this disaster forever changed how homes, buildings, and communities are constructed.

A deadly blaze engulfs Chicago for two terrifying days! A brother, a sister, and a helpless puupy must race through the city to stay one step ahead of the devilish inferno. But can they reunite with their lost family before it's too late?

With History Comics you can travel back in time to the launchpad at Cape Canaveral, the deserts of the American southwest, the riot at the Stonewall Inn, and beyond! In this new nonfiction graphic novel series from First Second, the past comes alive!

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Little Cities: Chicago
Written by DK
board book
Recommend Ages: 3-5

Welcome little ones to the Windy City with this handy guide to Chicago, covering highlights from food to famous landmarks.

This board book is ideal for kids visiting Chicago, or city natives who want to learn a bit more about their hometown. Discover famous landmarks like the Bean, Willis Tower, and the Adler Planetarium, the oldest planetarium in the world. Colorful photography and fun illustrations will catch the attention of young readers, while fascinating facts help to engage interest in their surroundings. This board book encourages children to explore the culture of the city through highlighting incredible kid-friendly things to see and do. How about visiting Sue, the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil ever discovered, at the Field Museum of Natural History, for example? Fun activities will keep children entertained.

This board book is the perfect children’s introduction to the unique attractions of Chicago.

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  • Project Mulberry - Julia Song and her friend Patrick would love to win a blue ribbon, maybe even two, at the state fair. They’ve always done projects together, and they work well as a team. This time, though, they’re having trouble coming up with just the right project. Then Julia’s mother offers a suggestion: They can raise silkworms, as she did when she was a girl in Korea. <p/> Patrick thinks it’s a great idea. Of course there are obstacles–for example, where will they get mulberry leaves, the only thing silkworms eat?–but nothing they can’t handle. <p/> Julia isn’t so sure. The club where kids do their projects is all about traditional American stuff, and raising silkworms just doesn’t fit in. Moreover, the author, Ms. Park, seems determined to make Julia’s life as complicated as possible, no matter how hard Julia tries to talk her out of it. <p/> In this contemporary novel, Linda Sue Park delivers a funny, lively story that illuminates both the process of writing a novel and the meaning of growing up American.

  • Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919 - On a hot day in July 1919, five black youths went swimming in Lake Michigan, unintentionally floating close to the “white” beach. An angry white man began throwing stones at the boys, striking and killing one. Racial conflict on the beach erupted into days of urban violence that shook the city of Chicago to its foundations. This mesmerizing narrative draws on contemporary accounts as it traces the roots of the explosion that had been building for decades in race relations, politics, business, and clashes of culture. <i>Archival photos and prints, source notes, bibliography, index.</i>

  • My Chocolate Year - In 1945 Chicago, as her Jewish family anxiously awaits news of relatives left behind in Europe, ten-year-old Dorrie learns new recipes in the hope of winning a baking competition at school. Includes recipes for various foods, from chocolate pudding to chocolate mandelbread.

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