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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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Finding Langston
Written & illustrated by Lesa Cline-Ransome
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

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!

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Firestorm!
Written by Joan Hiatt Harlow
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

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.

The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days book
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A Year Down Yonder book
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The Westing Game book
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A Long Way from Chicago book
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  • The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days - 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.

  • A Year Down Yonder - 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.

  • The Westing Game - 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!

  • 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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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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My Chocolate Year
Written by Charlotte Herman & illustrated by LeUyen Pham
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 8-12

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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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.

Only the living can make the world better. Live and make it better.

Twelve-year-old Jerome is shot by a police officer who mistakes his toy gun for a real threat. As a ghost, he observes the devastation that’s been unleashed on his family and community in the wake of what they see as an unjust and brutal killing.

Soon Jerome meets another ghost: Emmett Till, a boy from a very different time but similar circumstances. Emmett helps Jerome process what has happened, on a journey towards recognizing how historical racism may have led to the events that ended his life. Jerome also meets Sarah, the daughter of the police officer, who grapples with her father’s actions.

Once again Jewell Parker Rhodes deftly weaves historical and socio-political layers into a gripping and poignant story about how children and families face the complexities of today’s world, and how one boy grows to understand American blackness in the aftermath of his own death.

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Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919
chapter book
Recommend Ages: 12-17

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. Archival photos and prints, source notes, bibliography, index.

Scritch Scratch book
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History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes book
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Emmi in the City: A Great Chicago Fire Survival Story book
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Doodleville book
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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.Claire has absolutely no interest in the paranormal. She's a scientist, which is why she can't think of anything worse than having to help out her dad on one of his ghost-themed Chicago bus tours. She thinks she's made it through when she sees a boy with a sad face and dark eyes at the back of the bus. There's something off about his presence, especially because when she checks at the end of the tour...he's gone.Claire tries to brush it off, she must be imagining things, letting her dad's ghost stories get the best of her. But then the scratching starts. Voices whisper to her in the dark. The number 396 appears everywhere she turns. And the boy with the dark eyes starts following her.Claire is being haunted. The boy from the bus wants something...and Claire needs to find out what before it's too late.

  • History Comics: The Great Chicago Fire: Rising from the Ashes - 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!

  • 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.

  • Doodleville - 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. Drew is just a regular artist. But there’s nothing ordinary about her art. Her doodles are mischievous . . . and rarely do they stay in Doodleville, the world she’s created in her sketchbook. Instead, Drew’s doodles prefer to explore the world outside. But after an inspiring class trip to the Art Institute of Chicago—where the doodles cause a bit too much trouble—Drew decides it’s time to take her artistic talents to the next level.
    Enter the Leviathan—Levi, for short. He’s bigger and better than anything Drew has ever created before. He’s a monster, but a friendly one. That is, until Levi begins to wreak havoc on Drew’s other doodles—and on the heroes her classmates have dreamt up.
    Levi won’t be easily tamed, and it seems there is a link between the monster’s bad behavior and Drew’s feelings. With the help of her loyal art club friends, will she be able to save Doodleville—and Levi—before it’s too late?

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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 New York Times bestselling creator of The Keeping Quilt.

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.”

This generational story from the family of Patricia Polacco’s Irish father brims with the same warmth and heart as the classic The Keeping Quilt and The Blessing Cup, which Kirkus Reviews 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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