This may be the age of the small screen and e-tail, but bookstores ain’t dead yet … especially those of the independent variety. From coast to coast, people are discovering that these shops go well beyond books, offering visiting authors, cooking demonstrations, book groups, open-mic nights, literary-themed clothing, and more. Here in Chicago, we are blessed with a plethora of warm and welcoming bookstores where women owners have cultivated a loyal following locally and nationally alike, creating communities within communities in a world starved for human connection.
Countless independent bookstore owners around the country have been inspired by Andersonville’s Women & Children First, whose moniker proudly announces its main focus. Founded in 1979, they are an unabashedly feminist bookstore — one of America’s largest — and stock tens of thousands of books by, for, and about women, a deep collection of children’s literature, and an impressive compilation of LGBTQ-centered works of fiction and non-fiction. The original co-founders, Linda Bubon and Ann Christophersen, kept it all in the family when they sold the business to Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney, loyal staffers at W&CF. They are continuing in the spirit of the original mission, per their website womenandchildrenfirst.com, “to promote the writing of women and other marginalized voices.” This includes the feminist programming of The Women’s Voices Fund, featuring women writers and encouraging in-depth discussions of issues that affect women and children.
The North Shore is a veritable hotbed of women-owned, independent bookstores, including The Book Stall in Winnetka, Lake Forest Book Store, and the new Booked children’s book shop in Evanston. Bookends & Beginnings, opened by author and James Beard Award-winning food journalist Nina Barrett, opened her Evanston shop in 2014 in the legendary Bookman’s Alley space. Locals call it Evanston’s “Speakeasy for Books” due to its back-alley entrance (you’ll find it just around the corner from Saville Flowers on Sherman), and they love it for its eclectic collection of new, used, and rare books and cookbooks, gift items from jewelry to literary socks and onesies, international children’s book collection, niche book groups, and an impressive roster of events featuring local and national authors and speakers. “The books are why we’re in it,” says Barrett, “but when the room is full of real people — it’s not a virtual space — with a real, live author, that is when I feel the most privileged that we get to do this.”
Has it been awhile since you and your kids have torn yourselves away from Instagram, YouTube or Netflix long enough to have a conversation — or even make eye contact? It’s time to break that habit… at least for a week. In honor of National Independent Bookstore Day (April 27) and Screen-Free Week (April 29 to May 5), we asked the owners of six local women-owned bookstores to recommend an engrossing read to anyone looking to trade in their screen time for the company of a good book. “There are more books than ever that engage with contemporary issues kids face every day … that transport you to a different time and place where many of the same kinds of issues are tackled in a timeless context,” says Barrett. Here are six new reads to consider sharing with your family.
Nina Barrett, Bookends & Beginnings
1712 Sherman Ave. Alley #1, Evanston, 224-999-7722
“The Night Diary” by Veera Hiranandani (for ages 8-12)
Set in 1947, the story is narrated by a 12-year-old girl named Nisha whose family is caught up in India’s partitioning into two separate countries, India and Pakistan. Shares Barrett: “Nisha grapples with loss, religious bigotry, displacement, and many other issues that resonate with other great crises in other times and places, from the Holocaust to the global refugee crises unfolding today, offering plenty of fertile ground for discussion from a child’s point of view.”
Stephanie Hochschild, The Book Stall
811 Elm St., Winnetka, 847-446-8880
“On the Come Up” by Angie Thomas (for ages 13+)
“Sixteen-year-old Bri aspires to be one of the greatest rappers of all time — just like her dad would have been had he not died too soon. Life is hard in the neighborhood because of drugs and crime. Life is also hard in school because of discrimination. Her mom is out of work and money is scarce. All of this built-up frustration comes out in Bri’s first performance. The song goes viral — for all the wrong reasons. Bri is torn between being the person her song says she is and the person she wants to be. Full of insight and heart, this book makes a strong statement for fighting for your dreams and how freedom of speech — especially for African-Americans — is not always free. This book is just as good as Angie Thomas’ [previous book] ‘The Hate U Give.’ A must read!”
Eleanor Thorn, Lake Forest Book Store
662 N. Western Ave., Lake Forest, 847-234-4420
“Dear Sister” by Alison McGhee (for ages 10+)
Written in the form of often hilarious notes and letters between two siblings (older brother and “incredibly annoying” little sister), and charmingly illustrated, this book for tweens examines the ties that bind and the unique relationship between siblings. Refusing to eat lima beans is not a crime, and being afraid of the dark is a deeply relatable fear. Ultimately, a book about familial love and loyalty.
Chelsea Elward, Booked
506 Main St., Evanston, 847-701-5707
“New Kid” by Jerry Craft (for ages 8-12)
“This is the hottest new graphic novel. It deals with a 12-year-old boy from Washington Heights who starts a new, posh private school, where diversity is low and expectations are high.” It’s about an artistically talented middle schooler of color learning to reconcile his two very different lives while staying true to himself, and aren’t we all trying to do just that?
Suzy Takacs, The Book Cellar
4736 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, 773-293-2665
“Unstoppable Moses” by Tyler James Smith (for ages 12+)
Prankster Moses and his cousin aren’t bad kids, but somehow they become accidental arsonists, and everything changes. An opportunity to volunteer at a local camp could lead to an expungement of Moses’ record and a bright future. “Unstoppable Moses is radiant,” says Printz Honor award-winning author Andrew Smith. “One of those rare debut novels that shines with humor, love, compassion, and hope, with a cast of unforgettable characters that jump off the pages and into your heart.”
Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck, Women & Children First
5233 N. Clark St., Chicago, 773-769-9299
“American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures” by America Ferrera (for ages 12+)
“An exceptionally timely anthology about American identity,” edited by actor/activist America Ferrara, this collection of essays is an exploration of what it means to see the individual experiences of our country’s different cultures reflected honestly. Ferrera reaches out to people she knows and/or admires — including Michelle Kwan, Padma Lakshmi, Roxanne Gay, and Lin-Manuel Miranda — and asks them to share their deeply personal stories of connecting with their American identity.
Julie Chernoff, Make It Better’s dining editor since its inception in 2007, graduated from Yale University with a degree in English — which she speaks fluently — and added a professional chef’s degree from the California Culinary Academy. She has worked for Boz Scaggs, Rick Bayless, and Wolfgang Puck (not all at the same time); and counts Northlight Theatre and Les Dames d’Escoffier International as two of her favorite nonprofits.