Volumes Bookcafe: A Chicago Spotlight

There are several things to love about Wicker Park’s five-month-old Volumes Bookcafe, but chief among them is its goal to bring the community together around a shared passion for books. Also high on the list? This place combines coffee, pastries, wine, and books. In other words, there’s really no reason to ever leave.

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Upon entering, visitors note the sleek, modern decor with just the right number of quirky embellishments to draw them in: a reading nook covered in colorful hardbacks, a high-contrast Don Quixote poster, quote-ridden chalkboard walls, and a decent-sized shelf of board games (squee!).

While it’s not the biggest bookstore in the city, it is apparent that a lot of thought has gone into what’s on the shelves. In fact, Volumes prides itself on having a well-curated collection, and from what I could see, it’s one that would satisfy any reader’s palette.

Like any bookstore worth its salt, personal recommendations are peppered throughout each section, many of which I wholeheartedly second (lookin’ at you, Geek Love). But what’s different is that in most cases, there are only one to three available copies of any book. This place isn’t aiming to pump out the latest best-sellers; they’re looking to spark conversation and engage their customers on a quest to find their next favorite novel.

And, importantly, the staff with whom I’ve spoken are readily available, knowledgeable, and able to provide thoughtful next-read suggestions.  They are also more than willing to special order anything not found in the store.

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The Paper Bag Princess is by far one of my favorite children’s books, too.

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If I didn’t feel like I’d be defiling books, I’d create something like this at my apartment. There’s probably a second-hand market for book covers, right?

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A reading bench in the children’s section helps even the youngest readers relax a while.

Then there’s the cafe, which, on a weekday around noon, was pleasantly populated but not overcrowded. Serving Metropolis coffee, (local) Dollop pastries, wine, and beer, it seems there’s something for everyone to enjoy while they walk the store, read, chat, or work away on their computer.

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Just in case you want to flaunt your nerd status via bracelet.

Overall, the ambiance of the store and cafe is inviting, relaxed, and enjoyable. It’s very fitting that Volumes is owned by two sisters with backgrounds in education because it feels welcoming to children and adults alike. Even though I had a baby and a stroller with me, I didn’t feel receive any side-eyes or feel the pressure to GFTO as I do in so many other places that are traditionally quieter and/or less kid-friendly.

With a ton of events, book clubs, and even an incredibly attractive sounding NaNoWriMo project, it truly is a place that encourages community interaction, which just makes me appreciate it all the more.

Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

Volumes is located at 1474 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Those are pretty generous hours, if you ask me.

Parking and transportation

In my experience, parking in Wicker Park is kind of a nightmare because space is so limited and several areas require permits. However, metered parking is available.

I personally recommend public transportation, though, especially because the store is only a four-minute walk from the Damen Blue ‘L’ stop.

Stroller or carrier

With only my jogging stroller at my dispense on the day of my first visit, I can attest that there is plenty of room for a stroller–especially a normal-sized one–at Volumes Bookcafe. Plus, a stroller makes it substantially easier to sit down and enjoy a cup of joe.

Final Word

If you’re looking for a bookstore with spunk and substance, check out Volumes Bookcafe. If it were possible to be friends with a bookstore, I’d sign right up with this one.

And, after all, you know here at Baby Brown Bear, I am a fan of keeping it local.

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Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration: A Chicago Spotlight

Hidden behind the clean-lined and somewhat inconspicuous exterior of Andersonville’s Swedish American Museum lies one of Chicago’s best kid gems: the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration.

By now, my inner Swedophile has made herself known a few times on this blog, but it bears repeating that I’ve yet to come across something related to the Scandinavian country that I didn’t love. Even though we’re more than four thousand miles away from Stockholm, this counts as yet another one of those things.

Before I take you on my tour, I’d like to note something shameful. I actually only visited this beautiful children’s museum to do just that, and failed to tour the rest of the Swedish American Museum. One of these days, I’ll move beyond the lobby, the gift store, and the top floor to meander through the rest of the exhibits. I’m sure I’d love them, too.

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Having been on our Chicago bucket list for some time, Baby Bear and I were thrilled when a friend invited us to a group play date at the children’s museum. As a bonus, it was on one of the museum’s free days (the second Tuesday of each month, as noted below).

Upon entering, we were met by one of the friendliest museum employees I’ve yet to encounter. As we sat comfortably in the foyer chairs next to the ornate Viking ship (which  entranced the babe) and waited for others in our party, she happily provided us with information about the museum. She also asked how we all knew each other and commented on how she is still in touch with women from her own mom and baby group from several decades ago. By the time we finally went upstairs, I felt like we were buds. In my experience, you don’t get that kind of sincere customer service from many museums in the city.

Despite it being a free day, I was extremely pleasantly surprised to learn that the children’s museum wasn’t crowded in the least. At most, I saw only about a dozen people, including babies. Already I knew this was my kind of place.

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This brightly colored map greets you off the elevator. I tried to show BB where we visited, but he couldn’t have cared less. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when I took my first look inside, my inner kid came to life and wanted to run from one thing to the next.

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The sign above says the museum is intended for children between 6 and 12 years of age, but I think it’s great for babies, too. I’d just suggest waiting until they can at least sit up on their own. 

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There’s a Swedish farmhouse! (Or stuga, according to the site.)

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I was tempted to wear one of the little smocks, but decided my 2016 clothes would have to suffice. Maybe when Baby Bear can wear one with me.

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This is one of the things I’m most excited for Baby Bear to grow into so we can explore more. The little house is equipped with things authentic to the time period, including the dining and bedroom areas you can see here, plus a kitchen full of  old-timey cookware.   

A farm!

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The entire museum has a homesteading feel to it. Here on the farm, kids can milk the wooden cow, gather firewood, pump for water….

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And gather pigs for the slaughterhouse apparently. But really, how was I not to feel instant camaraderie with this breastfeeding mama pig? With the exception of only having one baby attached to me, I’m in this position daily.

A ship!

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Baby Bear and friends loved to stand up against the little box seats and push the oars back and forth. They would have been terrible rowers, but anyone who would hire a crew of 11-month-olds has it coming.

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After he grew tired of rowing, Baby Bear (of course) found some stairs leading him up to the top of the ship. Hey, this apartment kid has to practice his stair climbing some time, doesn’t he?

A pioneer log cabin complete with a garden!

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The garden was especially fun because all of the veggies are made from cloth. Yet another reason why I think of this place as a pinnacle of homesteading; it’s full of wooden, metal, or cloth toys and details. Fun, educational, and less plastic waste!

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Now if only I could read that Swedish blessing (I assume?).

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This cabin reminded me of how grateful I am to have been born in this cushy era. Can you imagine winters in this house? 

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Wait a second, chickens don’t lay apples.

And, jumping ahead about a century, space!

You may be wondering why in the hell they would have a space exhibit. Well, it turns out Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon after Neil Armstrong, is Swedish American.

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Some Swedish equipment (I believe it was a camera) that was used in the moon landing.

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Finally, there’s Buzz! Those chairs were the really exciting part here, though. That red button set off a countdown. Once the timer ran out, the chairs vibrated and rumbled to simulate blast off. Baby Bear and friends were a little alarmed by the new sensation, but they handled it like pros. I’m not sure I’m prepared for him to become an astronaut!

Rest assured, there’s even more to this museum that I haven’t shown you, but I don’t want to spoil all the fun.

In addition to what I’ve highlighted here, and other fun things for kids to climb on and explore, there’s plenty of educational text to accompany each play experience. Children can leave the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration with a great understanding of what it was like for Swedish immigrants coming to America (and by extension, what life was like for many other kinds of immigrants of that era too).

I truly do think this is a great activity for any kid or parent who’s a kid at heart. Plus, after your visit you can go ahead and visit the Swedish Bakery down the street, or just look at the little Swedish horse on the corner.

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Plan Your Visit

Location and hours

The Swedish American Museum is located at 5211 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60640. The Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration has different hours than the rest of the museum. They are as follows:

  • Monday to Thursday: 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Friday: 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • Saturday and Sunday: 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

The museum is closed on several holidays, so make sure to check online before visiting on those days. For more information, click here.

Cost

The museum offers free admission on the second Tuesday of every month. 

Otherwise, admission for non-members is as follows:

  • Adults: $4
  • Children, students, and seniors: $3
    • Children under the age of one are free
  • Families: $10

Parking and transportation

The museum has a free parking lot located on the northeast corner of Ashland and Foster. From there, it’s a very short walk to the museum. Otherwise, Andersonville has plenty of paid street parking.

The nearest CTA ‘L’ stop is the Berwyn Red Line, which is about a half-mile walk away. As always, there are bus options available to you as well. I encourage you to map your trip using Google Maps if you need help.

Stroller or carrier?

With a decently spacious elevator and no shortage of room to park, bringing my stroller was a breeze. Especially during this heat, it’s nice to not have to wear my little furnace.

Final Word

I plan to make several trips back to the Brunk Children’s Museum of Immigration. If Baby Brown Bear enjoyed it as much as he did before he could even walk, he’ll absolutely love it as he continues to grow.

With so many engaging activities for kids of all ages, a helpful and accomodating staff, and a not-crowded atmosphere, this has quickly become one of my favorite Chicago spots.