The Magic of a Chicago Neighborhood Festival

There's nothing like a good neighborhood festival in Chicago. And, if it's got a ton for kids to do and enjoy, it's even better - at least for a mom of two young boys like me.

I love how just one visit to just one of Chicago's amazing festivals can introduce you to a new neighborhood, enable you to meet new people, open your eyes to new stores, restaurants and cultural institutions, and remind you of all of the very things that make Chicago such a great city. That all happened for me and my youngest son this past weekend at the Children's Book Festival in Hyde Park.

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The 26th Annual Children's Book Festival, held at Nichols Park (55th St. and Kimbark Ave.) on Sunday, gave us the perfect excuse to search for new children's books and explore a different part of Hyde Park - away from our usual hangout on the Midway. We enjoyed our walk down 53rd St. to the festival, past the many restaurants we now need to go back and visit with the rest of our family. And, my son had fun exploring every inch of Nichols Park, which we'll need to go back to before or after my older son's weekly soccer games.

A Great Reminder of Chicago's Great Offerings

Just one look at the festival made our jaws drop. While my son was in awe of the strolling storybook characters, balloon arches and table after table of books, I was amazed at the turnout for a festival solely focused on books - and on a chilly fall day no less. And, I'm not just talking about the loads of booksellers that came out to sell, promote and even give away children's books. I was impressed with the many cultural institutions that were there to engage with kids and parents alike and really just show their support for the community.

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When we weren't busy rifling through tons of amazing children's books, we were enjoying interactive, educational children's activities. No wonder we couldn't pull ourselves away to leave and meet up with my husband and older son! Here are some of the highlights of the festival for both of us and some true "ah ha" moments for me as I was reminded of a few must-do activities I need to quickly add to our family's fall plans.

- The Oriental Institute Museum. I completely surprised the staff at The Oriental Institute Museum table with my own surprise in seeing them there at the Children's Book Festival. I think I must have said "I totally forgot about your musuem" and "oh wow, we SO have to go to your museum" about a million times. At least my four-year-old son is too young for me to embarrass him in public - at least I hope so! But, boy do I need to take my sons to this museum. The Oriental Institute Museum, located at 1155 E. 58th St., features history, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East - including mummies. We usually take our sons to the Field Museum to get their mummy-fix, but now we need to check out The Oriental Institute. And the perfect excuse for us to go there for our first visit is the Secret of the Mummies family program, taking place on Sunday, October 28, which offers children the chance to prepare a pretend mummy for the afterlife, among other activities. The program is scheduled for 1:30 - 3:30 p.m. and is recommended for children ages 5 and up. Admission to the museum is free (but a donation is suggested).

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- Art Institute of Chicago. I always think of the Art Institute of Chicago as a place to go without kids. But, boy am I wrong. Thanks to the helpful people working the Art Institute tables at the Children's Book Festival I was reminded that the museum, located at 111 S. Michigan Ave., is for all to enjoy. And, in fact, there are a wealth of family programs offered at the Art Institute, many of which tie to some of the museum's current exhibits. I, for one, can't wait to take my sons to the Built Environments family workshop on Sunday, October 20 from 2 - 3:30 p.m. Based on the exhibition Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects, the workshop offers children the chance to create their own city plans. The exhibit also was the inspiration behind the 3D bookmarks my son loved making at the festival. While many of the museum's programs are free, you do have to pay admission to enter the Art Institute. But, don't forget, children 14 years and under get in for free and the museum offers an admission discount for Chicago residents.

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- Barefoot Books. As you know from my previous post, ever since Europa closed back in September, I've been on the hunt for foriegn-language books in Chicago. So you can only imagine my surprise and delight when I stumbled across the Barefoot Books table at the Children's Book Festival. Barefoot Books, which specializes in books that explore other countries and our planet, had a whole bin of bilingual children's books - including some in French and English. I quickly snatched up a few to read to my sons since now I can easily read the stories in French and then provide the exact English translation - without using the iTranslate app on my iPhone! The World Atlas, a hard cover, beautiflly illustrated book that shows how communities across the globe have been influenced by their natural environments, also caught my eye - and made it on to my holiday shopping list for my boys. Children who are into Egypt and mummies, like mine, will enjoy "We're Sailing Down the Nile," which takes children through Egypt, introducing Egyptian landmarks and history to them along the way, and includes several pages of additional factual information at the end. Can you tell I'm a big fan of these books?

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Keeping the Love of Books and Chicago Alive

The Children's Book Festival left me on a huge cultural high and inspired me to continue to venture out with me family to new festivals, stores and museums in Chicago. As the months get colder, we usually tend to stay indoors and keep to our neighborhood - but not any more. I now have a great list of new places to go in Chicago to brave the chillier times and expose my sons to the world - past and present. And I can't wait!

For now we'll continue to dive deep into the books we found at the Children's Book Festival and explore the upcoming events at The Oriental Institute Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago (and other amazing Chicago cultural institutions). I know that this will help make the approaching winter a warm, engaging one that will help brighten and enrich our lives.

Do you have any recommendations of other neighborhood events or cultural institutions for us to visit this fall or winter - or any other time of the year? If yes, I'd love to hear about them.

Here's to world citizens!

Aimee

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