The Ultimate Illinois List of Children’s Books about Chicago
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Chicago is at the heart of America, as one of its largest cities. Illinois has played a outsized role in American history, from U.S. expansion into the Northwest Territory in the 1700s, to the rise and election of Abraham Lincoln as U.S. President, to a role in the Prohibition era. Chicago hosted the World’s Fair in 1893, and was home to the one of the first female presidential candidates ever, at the 1968 convention.
To get a sample of this Midwestern state, its soul and its industry, its innovation and power, here are some of the great children’s books about Chicago and Illinois.
Books about Illinois Women Finding Strength
Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks, by Suzanne Slade, illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera
Shirley Chisholm Is a Verb, by Veronica Chambers, illustrated by Rachelle Baker
The Power of Her Pen: The Story of Groundbreaking Journalist Ethel L. Payne, by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illustrated by John Parra
The House That Jane Built: A Story About Jane Addams, by Tanya Lee Stone, illustrated by Kathryn Brown
Books about Chicago: Residents Having Fun
Benny Goodman & Teddy Wilson, by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Children will learn about this jazz duo, who were the first to break the color barrier and perform in an interracial band. Learn about music history in this book about Chicago.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel, by Kathryn Gibbs Davis, illustrated by Gilbert Ford
George Ferris built the Ferris Wheel for the 1893 World’s Fair. This beautiful Chicago’s children book shows how inventions can change the night’s sky, and make the impossible possible.
Willie and the All-Stars, by Floyd Cooper
This Chicago children’s book places us in 1942, watching the Chicago Cubs. Willie gets to see an exhibition game between the Chicago Cubs and the Negro Leagues baseball team, five years before Jackie Robinson would break the color barrier of the MLB.
América Is Her Name, by Luis J. Rodriguez, illustrated by Carlos Vasquez
América grows up in the Pilsen barrio of Chicago. School doesn’t fit with América’s dreams until she meets a poet who encourages her class to express themselves in Spanish and English. From there, América finds her creativity and her desire to become a writer.
Books about Chicago: Learning More for Children
Kid’s Guide to Chicago, by Karen Bartlett
Great for kids who love trivia or who will be touring Chicago. This is a good book about Chicago’s history and sights.
Chicago History for Kids: Triumphs and Tragedies of the Windy City Includes 21 Activities, by Owen Hurd
This Chicago children’s book is great as an almost-textbook of the city written for upper elementary school (and interesting to read). It goes through Chicago’s history from prehistoric times, pre-Columbian times, to the present day. It’s probably too deep a dive for most doing a quick unit study, but for Chicago-area families it’s a good reference.
Chicago Children’s Books: Chapter Books for Older Children
Early Chapter Book:
In this book, young readers go on an unexpected adventure as Chicago suffers its most destructive disaster – the Great Fire of 1871.
YA Books about Chicago:
Down the Rabbit Hole: The Diary of Pringle Rose, Chicago, Illinois, 1871 (Dear America series), by Susan Campbell Bartoletti
This novel begins with the main character discovering that her parents had died in a horse carriage accident. Her extended family (an aunt and cousin) move in to take care of her and her brother, but Pringle Rose decides to run away for Chicago to get away from the mistreatment. She finds work as a nanny for a labor organizer in Chicago, learns more about the circumstances of her parents’ death, and is in Chicago to witness the 1871 fire. This book is a great fit for novel readers, children 5th to 9th grade.
The Rock and the River, by Kekla Magoon, a children’s book about Chicago in 1968. For 5th grade and up.
Illinois Vocabulary to Highlight:
Monks Mound (taller than the Pyramids of Giza)
Great Chicago Fire
Chicago World’s Fair
Illinois and Michigan Canal
Children’s Books about Chicago, Illinois and all 50 states. Which state will you read about next!