While the boom in online shopping has made it easy to get any item our hearts desire shipped straight to our doorsteps, there is something irreplicable about the feeling of walking into a bookstore, perusing through bookshelves, and flipping through pages until the right piece of writing calls out to you. So, we’ve compiled a few well-reviewed and well-loved bookstores on the South Side for our readers to visit in their free time.
The Weekly also stopped in to chat with Keewa Nurullah, the owner of Kido, a “diverse kids boutique” and bookstore that carries sustainable clothing and toys, and inclusive books.
Kido, the Eye-Catching Radical Children’s Boutique and Bookstore
“I think the goal was just to make the books that you would have to dig for at a traditional bookstore easily accessible,” said Keewa Nurullah, the owner of Kido. “So kind of outwardly reflecting kids of color, children with disabilities, kids who are from marginalized communities, so that they’re in focus.”
When I walked into Kido, located in South Loop at 1137 S. Delano Ct. in the Roosevelt Collection Shops, the first thing that caught my eye was a book titled My Two Moms and Me with diverse stories for kids with lesbian parents. Kido’s instagram, which has amassed over twenty-one thousand followers, posts their diverse offerings daily, but seeing these books in person evokes a different type of emotion.
They witness many reactions as patrons enter the store; some people gasp, looking around the store in awe and wonder, and others feel so moved they even cry. “It’s very powerful to be seen, you know, and to feel like someone has put intention behind you being reflected, and you being cared for and just spoken to,” Nurullah said. Amanda Payne, the store manager, said they keep tissues around just in case. “It really helps us feel like we’re doing something that helps,” Nurullah said.
Nurullah, who grew up on the South Side in Chatham, believes that representation in books and media is crucial to building a strong and healthy foundation for children, which past generations, including our own, have been deprived of. Although these books are seemingly for kids, adults enter the store and leave with literature that speaks to and heals their inner child as well. Children who may experience trauma or have a hard time navigating the world as a result of their identities, abilities, or family structure can benefit from knowing that while they are special, they are not alone in their uniqueness.
“I can’t remember exactly which book it is, but there’s a Black dad and an Asian mom, which is my family, and I just suddenly was like, ‘I’ve never seen my family [in a book]’,” said Payne. I left the store with one of Nurullah’s favorite books, Your Name Is A Song by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow. The book chronicles a young girl who became disheartened when her classmates and teachers cannot pronounce her name. Her mother encourages her to see the musicality in her name and all unique names, highlighting African, Asian, African-American, Middle Eastern and Latinx names. I was drawn to this brightly illustrated read after seeing a name in my mother tongue, Igbo, featured in the book. “It’s really affirming for a lot of people, so [I’m] glad to facilitate that experience,” Nurullah said.
Although Kido offers clothes, toys, cards, pins, decoration, and many other trinkets, they’re a member of the American Booksellers Association—they are, in fact, a bookstore. “I think that some people might not call us a bookstore, or treat us as a bookstore,” Nurullah said, “but we definitely are the go to for children’s for children’s books, you know, diverse children’s books.”
If you get the chance, stop by to take a look and immerse yourself in the restorative power of representation, brought to you by your local Black-owned, Southsider-owned, family-friendly bookstore, Kido.
Seminary Co-Op and 57th Street Books
The Seminary Co-Op Bookstores, Inc. is independently owned and includes two magnificent bookstores located in Hyde Park.
Seminary Co-Op, at 5751 S. Woodlawn Ave., is regarded as one of the best academic bookstores, featuring a wealth of scholarly writing mostly focused on social sciences and humanities. They also carry books covering health and fitness, math and science, history, and more.
57th Street Books, at 1301 E. 57th St., has a more general collection of genres such as children’s books, cook books, science fiction and mysteries. Their website has comprehensive categories that give patrons a good idea of what they can find in-store, even detailing what’s displayed on the front table. Both stores are now open for in-person browsing amid the ongoing pandemic.
Paragon Book Gallery
Paragon Book Gallery has a long history that started seventy five years ago when the first store was opened in Shanghai. Its flagship store moved from China to New York and then to Chicago, and then back overseas to Beijing.
After opening multiple locations in China, Chicago welcomed Paragon Book Gallery back as they found a new home in the Zhou B Art Center, 1029 W. 35th St. Here, the store offers unique books on Asian culture and art, serving as a “liaison between Chinese and American academic and creative communities.”
Visits to Paragon are by appointment only as they continue to take safety precautions amid the ongoing pandemic.
Pilsen Community Books
Pilsen Community Books is a one-stop shop for a wide array of used books in varying categories. Becoming Chicago’s only employee-owned and operated independent bookstore in 2020, the store buys used books from community members and also offers two monthly book subscriptions—a great and sustainable way to circulate books and find your new favorite read.
The subscriptions, titled ‘Seeds of Change’ and ‘Bread and Roses,’ are available to ship anywhere if you aren’t able to stop by the store monthly, making the program hassle-free and accessible. The bookstore supports Liberation Library, an organization that provides books to incarcerated youth. Pilsen Community Books is now open for in person browsing at 1102 W. 18th St.
Chima Ikoro is the Community Organizing section editor for the Weekly.