Books for Boys Set in Urban Chicago
I love researching very specific book requests for kids! I received this request from Nadine:
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Baliett
This bewitching first novel is a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, disguised as an adventure, and delivered as a work of art.
When a book of unexplainable occurrences brings Petra and Calder together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect; an eccentric old woman seeks their company; an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem-solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has stumped even the FBI?
I personally liked Chasing Vermeer myself but my oldest, at around age 9, did not which surprised me because she is arty. It’s a mystery and set more in suburban ChicagoLand than inner city.
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy
“Vivid firsthand descriptions by persons who lived through the 1871 Chicago fire are woven into a gripping account… Absorbing and riveting reading.”
The Horn Book, starred review
And a Newbery Honor book!
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Jeanette says, “Good for maybe 7-8th grade and up.”
I searched online as well. I came up with a few more — it’s tougher than we’d thought!!!
Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements
A teenage boy living in Hyde Park wakes up and discovers that he is invisible. His parents are questioned by police because someone reports that he hasn’t been seen, and a new friend helps him uncover why he’s become invisible. Recommended for ages 9 and up.
Windy City Mystery by Gertrude Warner
The “Boxcar Children” travel to Chicago for a wedding and wind up investigating a mystery.
Windy City Danger (Red Rock Mysteries #11) by Jerry B. Jenkins
Bryce and Ashley Timberline are normal 13-year-old twins, except for one thing—they discover action-packed mystery wherever they go. Whether it’s tracking down a missing groom or uncovering a drug-dealing ring, Bryce and Ashley never lose their taste for adventure. Wanting to get to the bottom of any mystery, these twins find themselves on a nonstop search for the truth.
The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett
I found another book by Blue Balliett of Chasing Vermeer set in Chicago based on Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Hyde Park. Ok,
Fair Weather by Richard Peck
I happen to love Richard Peck and Fair Weather is one of my favorites! It fits the bill since the no one said that we couldn’t go back in time! Fair Weather is set at the turn of the century when Chicago hosted the World Fair. Honestly, this is a great read! Two of his other books are also wonderful but they are set in rural Illinois during the Great Depression.
Making Tracks (Adventures in America) by Adrienne Wolfert
The latest in the Adventures in America series brings home some of the hard truths about life during the Depression through a riding-the-rails tale. Harry James Harmony is almost an orphan: his mother is desperately ill with tuberculosis, and his father has gone to Chicago to find work as a jazz musician. Harry leaves the foster farm and stows away on the train from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Chicago, dreaming of a reunion with his father. He is pursued by the railroad police and tormented by his fear that he’ll be sent to an orphanage or reform school if caught. Wolfert serves up a great deal of information about the Depression in this page-turner by focusing on trains and the people who were forced to ride them.
Missing from Haymarket Square by Harriette Robinet
CHICAGO, 1886. Twelve-year-old Dinah Bell is too young to be working twelve-hour days. But to the factory and mill owners, age doesn’t matter. In fact, nothing seems to matter to them except how much work gets done. But Dinah and workers like her have many concerns: Food is scarce, wages are small, and hope seems out of reach.
Dinah’s father knows there must be a better way — that’s why he and eight thousand others are planning to march for an eight-hour day. But when her father is taken prisoner for helping to plan the march, Dinah is desperate to rescue him. As the march gives way to a terrifying riot, Dinah faces constant danger and a persistent question: What will become of her family if she does not set her father free?
America is her Name by Luis Rodriguez
Set in the Pilsen barrio of Chicago, this children’s picture book gives a heartwarming message of hope. The heroine, América, is a primary school student who is unhappy in school until a poet visits the class and inspires the students to express themselves creatively in Spanish or English. América Is Her Name emphasizes the power of individual creativity in overcoming a difficult environment and establishing self-worth and identity through the young girl América’s desire and determination to be a writer. This story deals realistically with the problems in urban neighborhoods and has an upbeat theme: you can succeed in spite of the odds against you. Carlos Vázquez’s inspired four-color illustrations give a vivid sense of the barrio, as well as the beauty and strength of the young girl América.
Thank you to Becky of Kid World Citizen for this great chapter book series via her Facebook page.
The Sixty-Eight Rooms (The Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventures) by Marianne Fineberg
Fans of magic, mystery, and adventure will love the first exciting Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure—the perfect next step for kids who loved the Magic Tree House series, and readers who love Chasing Vermeer, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and Wonderstruck! Almost everybody who has grown up in Chicago knows about the Thorne Rooms. Housed in the deep inside the Chicago Art Institute they are a collection of 68 exquisitely crafted miniature rooms. Each room is set in a different historic period, and every detail is perfect. Some might even say, the rooms are magic. Imagine—what if on a field trip, you discovered a key that allowed you to shrink so that you could sneak inside and explore the rooms’ secrets? What if you discovered that others had done so before you? And that someone had left something important behind?
Erica of What Do We Do All Day also writes for Storied Cities, a blog that showcases books for kids set in urban settings. She has several books on Chi-Town here:
Storied Cities: Snowy City: The Great Horse-Less Carriage Race
Storied Cities: Furry City: Beaver is Lost
She also recommends an early chapter book series called Simply Sarah set in urban Chicago.
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.