School’s back in session, so time to hit the books. Kick off the year right with a visit to an indie bookstore to celebrate International Literacy Day, September 8. Even the most engaging iPad game can’t trump the thrill of nosing around these neighborhood and suburban gems we’re going to share with you, which have special sections just for kids, along with story hours and family events.
One of the newer additions to Chicago’s indie bookstore scene is City Lit, which is celebrating it’s 5th birthday this year. The sleek, minimalist spot keeps the focus squarely where it belongs: the books. Look for an array of kid-friendly reads, classified for young children and ages 9-12. Mark your family calendar for City Lit’s storytime held Saturday at 10:30 a.m. Come winter, you’ll want to curl up by the fireplace in one of the addictively squishy chairs. Noteworthy: free parking in the back, total bonus for a city shop!
2523 N. Kedzie Ave.
Open Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
While Unabridged Bookstore caters to children, it’s old enough to be a parent. Opened in 1980, it features an award-winning children’s book section containing titles for infants and toddlers up to young teens. Since opening, the store has expanded and now holds enough books to rival the library in Beauty and the Beast. The vibe is warm and inviting, with comfortable nooks and crannies that invite you to plop down and get lost in a read. Classics are well-represented, from Dr. Seuss and Goodnight Moon to all the new arrivals. Especially charming are the hand-written recommendations from employees found taped to the shelves.
3251 N. Broadway Ave.
Hours: Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat. & Sun., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Women & Children First
As one of the largest feminist bookstores in the country, this Andersonville mainstay stocks more than 30,000 books by and about women, as well as lots for children. It’s a bustling urban nook, constantly streaming with locals and their families. The adjunct Women’s Voices Fund, established in 2005 to support programming at the book store, assists women writers and encourages reading among children. This is partly vitalized through storytime, held every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m., where a $1 donation is requested. Former store co-owner Linda Bubon does the reading and singing and dancing is nearly always involved.
The bookstore is so committed to children that it offers a birthday party package where the only requirement is at least a $50 donation to the Women’s Voices Fund and provide a book for each kid in attendance. They even help pick out the book and gift wrap. Piggy and Elephant fans will love the Mo Willems’ themed parties that are offered through a partnership with The Play Cafe of Chicago on Sunday mornings at 9 a.m.
5233 N. Clark St.
Open: Mon.-Tues., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Wed.-Fri., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court
Bursting with color, knickknacks and whimsy, The Book Stall is as energetic as bookstores come. Despite the toy-store vibe, the North Shore spot maintains a quaint charm and lures readers of all ages. Go for the frequent readings, story times, author talks and workshops. The shop also actively works to get authors in area schools for fun events such as meet-and-greets and book release parties. Be sure to join the Children’s Book Club; for a membership fee, the shop provides your child with a steady stream of books custom-tailored to their liking.
811 Elm St.
Open: Mon.-Thurs., 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m.; Fri., 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
This one has more history than a Charles Dickens’ novel. The store dates back to 1875, when W.W. Wickel Pharmacy started selling books, until eventually in 1964 it opened a bookstore upstairs, dubbed Paperback Paradise. As this family-run business enters its sixth generation and 135th year in business, it’s grown tremendously, changing locations and adding toys. The store is now sprawling and vibrant, like the lit equivalent of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Go for the myriad of children’s books and author readings, as well as mother-daughter book group. One heartwarming asset is its Book Angels program, which encourages shoppers to select books for area children in need; employees help select and wrap books, and delivers them to local charities.
123 W. Jefferson Ave.
Open: Mon.-Sat., 9 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
Locations also in Downers Grove & LaGrange
57th Street Books
Hyde Park’s 57th Street Books is part of Seminary Co-Operative Bookstore, a collective of bookstores that began back in 1961 with just 17 members. It’s grown to close to 60,000 members and has included the likes of former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. Membership is free and includes benefits such as 10% back on your purchases in the form of a credit each month, free shipping worldwide and a weekly newsletter showcasing events, new book titles, reviews and coupons. 57th Street Books is especially kid-friendly and full of old-world charm, with a facade that looks like the entryway to Snow White’s cottage. Children’s books abound and weekly storytimes (including a Spanish storytime on Thursdays) — the ideal treat before a day at the nearby Museum of Science & Industry.
1301 E. 57th St.
Open: Daily, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
The Book Cellar
The Lincoln Square charmer has the feel of a rustic home, replete with a smattering of cozy couches. An integral part of the community, the store hosts children’s author readings and story time, and helps schools with book sales and fairs. A wide variety of children’s reads are on hand. Be sure to go on Fridays at 11 a.m. for storytime with Nili Yelin (aka: “The Storybook Mom”), who thrills young listeners with her fabulous character voices. If you’re in it for the long haul, kick back in the cafe area, where you can buy sandwiches and pastries.
4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave.
Open: Mon., Wed. & Sat., 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Tues. & Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
What is your favorite local bookstore? Let us know in the Comments section below.x
— Maria Chambers & Matt Kirouacx