A Kid’s Story of Growing Up in Chicago

Thinking about growing up in Chicago brings back many happy and rich memories. In the summer, in particular, sounds ranging from folk, jazz and house music come to mind and glorious smells of fresh cut grass, the neighborhood lilac bushes and barbecues fill my nose.

Here’s a short “HISTORY” featuring some other fun details about which I hope you'll enjoy reading:

H is for humor.

My dad was very quick-witted and loved puns. His funny stories had the entire family laughing hysterically, quite often in tears. Coincidentally, did you know that improv was “born” in Chicago? A woman named Viola Spolin who was working with immigrants at the Jane Addams Hull House through this community-building experience which allowed them to feel freer to connect, explore and play. But back to dad jokes ... while these days, they’re often thought of as “groaners,” why not judge for yourself by checking out Dad Jokes for Kids. And if you want to be the next great comedian like my dad (or even performing on stage at Second City), take a look at LOL 101!

I is for identity.

My South Side Chicago identity included a love for my diverse, multicultural neighborhood and being an advocate against racism and injustice. I was lucky to be a part of community with people from all over the world with different economic, religious and ethnic backgrounds. I distinctly recall how angry I was felt when a fellow black swim teammate was treated poorly in a mostly white suburban neighborhood, as well as how saddened I was to see a classmate excluded from a group because of her different abilities. Thankfully, now there are a lot more books available to help kids learn about differences if they aren’t as fortunate to know or understand them. Books like The Antiracist Kid help all kids learn how to better understand and stand up against oppression, racism and discrimination.

S is for scary stories.

So exciting were the evenings I spent camping, when everyone would gather around a campfire to share thrilling stories. Sometimes we’d memorize Alvin Schwart’z Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Now there are so many new stories to read and retell, such as Scary Stories for Young Foxes. Chicago also has a number of fun ghost stories! In fact, you might enjoy reading about the character Claire as she helps her father with a "Spirits of Chicago" ghost bus tour in Chicago author Lindsay Currie's book, Scritch Scratch.

T is for tornadoes.

Tornado drills were a big part of my childhood but, thankfully, I didn’t see many tornadoes. I was terrified by the destruction and damage, however, meteorologist Robin Tanamachi, became so fascinated watching tornadoes on the Weather Channel, she knew at age seven that she would become a tornado scientist! Her passion for these frightening, powerful storms is evident in The Tornado Scientist

O is for opportunities...

to visit museums! I was fortunate to go to the Museum of Science and Industry for free when I was a youngster. I loved the model train and adored the baby chicks there -- exhibits which you can still visit today. Thanks to Explore More Illinois, parents with Chicago Public Library cards can get instant online access to free or discounted tickets to museums for their families with a Digital Museum Pass.

R is for reading.

I loved reading and sheepishly recall my parents splurging on baseball tickets for the family, only to find it impossible to get me to divert my eyes away from a book to look up and actually watch the game. Graphic novels weren't nearly as good back when I was a kid, so I love checking them out now. In fact, recently an excellent Chicago author, Kate Hannigan, wrote The Great Chicago Fire, a marvelous comic book illustrated by Alex Graudins. How could one ask for more? (Don’t worry; librarians always have many more wonderful books to recommend!)

Y is for yelling...

“Red Rover” or “Cops and Robbers” while playing pick-up games in the alley, such as “Kick the Can." You can find new and old games in Go Out and Play! as well as boredom busters for indoors or outdoors in 365 Days of Play. Sun up to sun down, it was a blast to be outside playing at the local parks, climbing trees, jumping rope, etc. (much like the kids featured from Brooklyn, New York in The World Belonged to Us). My all-time favorite summer activities were exploring in nature like Aimee’ M. Bissonette’s characters in When Summer Comes; I loved hiking, bicycling, canoeing or swimming in Lake Michigan, etc.

Growing up in Chicago was clearly a happy experience for me, and I hope it is for you too! Do you have a favorite Chicago book or memory? Let me know in the comments.