4th grade chapter books, chapter books set in Chicago, urban chapter books for kids,

Chapter Books for Boys Set in Chicago

Books for Boys Set in Urban Chicago

I love researching very specific book requests for kids! I received this request from Nadine:

Hey! I have been searching for books with an “inner city” vibe. My son is 9 and read The Spraypaint Mystery and The Case of the Missing Trophy by Angela Medearis. Both times he was able to relate parts of the books to “Chicago Stuff.”
He made mention of the different names (we spend a lot of time visiting family in Chicago). I am trying to find books in the 4th-6th grade level with urban/inner city references. I am not coming up with anything in my search and I thought of you! Maybe a possible “Book List” inspiration in the future?
Thanks in advance … 
Nadine C-S
For this challenge, I needed a Chi-Town partner in crime so I called upon my blogging friend, who resides in Chicago and blogs at CraftWhack and Artchoo!.
4th grade chapter books, chapter books set in Chicago, urban chapter books for kids,
She came up with …
The Drained Brains Caper (Chicagoland Detective Agency (Quality Paper)) by Trina Robbins
Raf knows Megan is trouble from the moment she steps into his mom’s pet food store asking for a tarantula. But there’s one thing you can count on in Chicagoland: weird things happen several times a day. Megan is a vegetarian, manga-reading haiku writer. She definitely doesn’t fit in at Stepford Academy, her new summer school. The other students are happy to be in class. Too happy. And everyone looks and acts exactly alike. That’s weird. Megan is determined to dig into Stepford’s secrets, but soon she’s in way too deep. Raf may be the only human being she knows who can help. But with zombified students, very mad scientists, and the school psychiatrist on their trail, they’re going to need a whole lot more help. We did say that Chicagoland is weird…

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 occurences 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 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.


To view any book at Amazon, please click on image of book or go here to see at Barnes and Noble.

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Alexandra

    I love your specific lists! 🙂 So, I wonder if Poland themed books for kids is too big or too little a challange for you? :))))
    Alexandra recently posted…Good emotions – good habitsMy Profile

  2. What a great list! The Drained Brains Caper reminds me of the Encyclopedia Brown Series. If you combine that with weird students and strange happenings, sounds like young readers will love it.

  3. Excellent list! This list is actually perfect for my son. I will print it out and just bring it to the library!

    Thanks for this!
    Lisa Nelson recently posted…Happiness is – Knowing that People Do Good ThingsMy Profile

  4. I shared this on my personal fb page and someone had a suggestion to add:)- “Add to that “68 Rooms” and “Stealing Magic,” about two 11 year olds and the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago.”
    Becky recently posted…Gingerbread Stories from Around the WorldMy Profile

  5. This is a super awesome list! I love urban books! Did you know I review them at Storied Cities? There is an early chapter book series set in Chicago called “Simply Sarah”. I haven’t been able to find too many picture books other than the boring kind that are just all about the city. But I reviewed two: Beaver is Lost, and The Great Horse-Less Carriage Race.
    Mom and Kiddo recently posted…Teaching Alphabet Sounds with a PuzzleMy Profile

  6. Nadine

    I cannot thank you enough for these suggestions. I’m thinking reading “68 rooms adventures” warrents a trip to the art institute! And “the great fire” makes for a great summer history “lesson.’ My amazon cart is filled to the max.

    • Hi Nadine,
      Oh! How fun to read the book and then take a field trip!!!! Let me know how that goes. Glad to make this list. Artchoo! and I had a lot of fun working together. I think we unearthed most of them thanks to help from readers. Can anyone think of any more?
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Poetry by 2nd Grade BoysMy Profile

  7. Ann

    Great book list theme! I don’t know a lot about Chicago. Reading a book set there seems like a great way to get a taste for the place! I think I would like to start with The House on Mango Street – thanks Artchoo and Pragmatic Mom!!!
    Ann recently posted…Building LettersMy Profile

  8. Renee C.

    Who knew there were that many chapter books set in Chicago – I suppose it’s just a matter of sifting through and finding them. Still… you’ve pulled together a great list. Thanks – and thanks for linking into the Kid Lit Blog Hop! 🙂
    Renee C. recently posted…Spring Break Destination Revealed (and Gushed About)My Profile

  9. What a fun idea for a list. You always come up with such creative themed ideas! Thanks also for your kind comments about my post last week and all your shares. It made my day. : )
    Bethany recently posted…Painting with Kids {quick tip for less mess}My Profile

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