Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Books and Bikes: To Book- A -Mania at the Harold Washington Library

This Saturday, November 19th, will be the annual Book-A-Mania Festival at the Harold Washington Library from 11a.m. to 3 p.m.. Book-A-Mania is a free spectacle of authors, performance and crafts held each year throughout the Harold Washington Library downtown. Take your bikes and go. It's just incredibly fun.

The activities meet you at the door in the lobby and can be found in the Lobby, Thomas Hughes Children's Library and then way up in the huge Winter Garden at the top of the building.
When your family walks in to the library each child immediately gets a huge bag with booklists, a map and a card  to get stamped at any of the "stations" that fill the library. When you have seven stamps you can present your card at the free book stations in the Winter Garden. There are usually two- one for pre-k to early elementary and the the other for older children. You stamped card gets traded in for a free book.
You fill that big empty bag with the ingenious crafts that you'll finish to get stamps. The crafts are usually really clever and well thought out. We still have a bunch saved from years past. Crafts are each paired with a specific book. The inner sanctum of the Winter Garden-- the South Hall- hosts the author section where the visiting authors hold court, read stories, answer questions and sign books. (One year Mo Willems came and it was like the Beatles.). Sandmeyer's Books from Printers Row also curates and sells really lovely books in this space too.
This is a big festival very, very worth going to even though it sounds overwhelming when you read about it. Check out the schedule to plan out your visit.

Here are our thumb nail tips to make the most of the day:

1. Arrive early- as early as you can. It's worth it to get a jump on the crowd and be there when the volunteers are fresh and ready for the day.

2. Take your bike or the train.

3.  The Winter Garden area is amazing. Go there first unless there is something really great in the Children's Library you want to see.

4. Check your coat and anything else you can get rid of at the free coat check in the Winter Garden. Carry as little as you can so you can manage your children's bag filling with crafts. It's more fun when you have two hands to help with the crafts and are not weighed down with lots of stuff.

5. The Author/Story Time area adjacent to the Winter Garden in the South Hall has comfy bean bags, pillows and space on the floor to veg out when you and your kids need to take a break from standing around.

6. Don't panic about getting all the stamps- it doesn't take that long and there are many amazing crafts. Your kids will have great fun if you keep the mood relaxed.

7. It gets overheated in the library so dress with a lighter layer on the bottom and leave as many heavy ones as you can at the coat check.

8. To get to the top floor of the library where the Winter Garden is you take the escalators to the second floor, and elevator to the third floor and then a second elevator to the top floor. Seems interminable at the time but it does eventually get you up there. Don't mind the freaking out parents stressed about getting into the elevators first. There really is plenty of room for everyone up there! There are metal detectors and a bag check as you enter the main library to catch your second elevator to the top floor and they do check bags. (You can take the escalators up after getting to the third floor but I usually have too many kids with me and the escalators give me vertigo)

9. Eat a good breakfast so that you can relax and enjoy the festival before everyone gets hungry. Sometimes we have a snack on the sidewalk before we go in to fortify everyone if breakfast was a long time ago.

Getting There and then Food, Coffee Bathrooms...
Our best routes to and through downtown are in our post about Open Streets so I am going to cheat and reference that one! 
Many of the same food and coffee options are this post  too. The Harold Washington Library is basically in Printer's Row which has three places we like one fast and two not so. The Epic Burger is a not so cheap but good option for a quick lunch very close to the Library just across State Street on the south east side of the street in the Student Housing Complex. 
Our kids split the burgers there as they are pretty big. They have nice vegetarian options as well.
There is a not totally cheap but yummy Nepali/Indian place with a buffet on Saturday tucked further back into Printer's Row a block behind Dearborn Station called Chicago Curry House (look out the link has a loud thing on it) if you are hungry for that sort of meal! They are kid friendly and have interesting and carefully made Nepali specialties plus all your favorite Indian staples. The Nepali dishes are really good. The Momos are spicy- not totally kid friendly unless your kids like spicyish food- but great for you.
The Hackney's Bar in Printer's Row can get crowded but has good burgers too and you can get a beer if you need one after all the fun you've had at Book-A-Mania. It's in Printer's Row on Dearborn just about one whole block south of the library.
There are plenty of bathrooms in the library and they don't tend to get too crazy. There are lots of Starbucks and other bathroom friendly fast food places around the perimeter of the library area too.
Bike parking is usually pretty easy all around the library with lots of racks all along the State street side.
Hope to see you at Book-A-Mania. Check out the Puppet Bike out front!

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