Forget jungle gyms for a moment. Your kids can get a different kind workout during winter — one for the imagination. Libraries are playgrounds for the mind, especially those located in and around Chicago. Check out books and, while you’re at it, the atmosphere. You’ll discover cool reading nooks, maker labs, storybook dollhouses and more. We’ve scoured the city and ‘burbs for the best libraries that will get your little reader ready for action.

harold-washington-library

photo: Harold Washington Library

IN CHICAGO

Harold Washington Library
The city’s premiere library doesn’t disappoint. The largest collection of children’s books in the city is housed inside the vast second-floor Thomas Hughes Children’s Library. The Storybook Dollhouse offers clues to poetry, nursery rhymes and children’s literature. The Maker Lab program includes drop-in times to create cool gear such as dinosaur key chains. For their evening preschool story time series, the tiniest book enthusiasts get the 360-library experience: storytelling, stretches and music, followed by a craft.

400 S. State St.
312-747-4300
Online: chipublib.org/locations/15/

Budlong Woods
Stuffed animals hang from the ceiling and wooden blocks line the shelves at this Rogers Park location. There are story times and crafts, as well as the library’s “Play for 90” program — for which Goodman Theatre professionals teach lil’ thespians how to create and perform original stories. When the weather permits, check out the outdoor reading garden.

5630 N. Lincoln Ave.
312-742-9590
Online: chipublib.org/locations/137

chicago-public-library

photo: Chicago Public Library

Beverly
Beverly has book clubs for the the pre-coffee set, plus the ABC Story Time that includes songs, storytelling and finger plays. Kids can select an alphabet craft project to do at home, and for those ages 7 and up there’s Sew & Tell — a beginning hand-sewing program — that will keep them in stitches as they create such projects as animal-shaped pin cushions. You’ll love reading inside under the cathedral ceilings or outside in the reading garden.

2121 W. 95th St.
312-747-9673
Online: chipublib.org/locations/10/

Lincoln Belmont
A Madeline doll and a stuffed purple monkey (consider them “guardians of the imagination”) keep kids company while they read on comfy blue seat cushions. In “The Read. Build. Play.” program, children can drop in for play with blocks, board games, LEGOs, puzzles and art projects. Our favorite? A Junior Book Club connects new readers with short chapter books.

1659 W. Melrose St.
312-744-0166
Online: www.chipublib.org/locations/68/

Mac's Garden

photo: Evanston Public Library

IN THE ‘BURBS

Evanston Public Library – Main Branch
Once kids enter the children’s section, they’ll feel compelled to step toward the excellent mosaic light fountain called Kinderspring. As they explore the vast section of books, they’ll discover various places to read, from oversized beanbags to the kid-friendly wooden stairs and cube structure. The library also hosts family films, story times and science activities. Our favorite is Jammie Time, where kids ages 2-9 are encouraged to wear their PJs for good reads and tunes!

1703 Orrington Ave.
Evanston
847-448-8600
Online: epl.org

Oak Park Public Library – Main Branch
Wide-screen TVs and video games aside, the main branch overflows with events for kids from Crafternoons to Pops and Tots where dads (and some moms) attend story time. Our favorite? Barbie Club, where the library provides the dream house, clothes, car and even the dolls.

834 Lake St.
708-383-8200
Online: oppl.org

la-grange-library

photo: La Grange Public Library

La Grange Public Library
Comfy couches surrounding the picture book section make it easy for kids to select a goodie and bring it to mom or dad to read. Colorful murals, natural lighting and a giant faux play tree (curl right up inside!) add to the experience. In addition to story times and LEGO Club, the Art Studio offers process-oriented art projects, concerts and hands-on workshops.

10 W. Cossitt Ave.
La Grange
708-352-0576
Online: lagrangelibrary.org

Arlington Heights Memorial Library
The spacious, colorful Kids’ World section offers seating in almost every corner of the room. While a fish tank and puppet theater are sure to catch kids’ eyes, the interactive dollhouse is a show stopper. Users control the lights by swiping a tablet. The library also offers fun events such as movie viewings, Harry Potter night and a Family Dance Party.

500 N. Dunton Ave.
847-392-0100
Online: ahml.info

What is YOUR favorite library with an incredible kids’ area? Let us know in the Comments!

— Kelly Haramis