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Book Review: Chicago Treasure

Chicago Treasure. Larry Broutman, Rich Green, & John Rabias. Chicago: Lake Claremont Press, March 1, 2019, Hardcover, 168 pages.

Reviewed by Susan Gaspar.

Upon first glance, Chicago Treasure is a beautiful coffee table book. Richly colored cover art, generous heft, and glossy pages make the book feel special. Its fill-your-lap proportion makes it feel like a doorway to another world in the same way that a lushly illustrated children’s book invites you inside to take a peek into a special place.

Upon closer examination, Chicago Treasure becomes much more than a beautiful book meant to dress a shelf or accessorize a table. There are things to explore, savor, and learn here, and nothing seems forced or rushed. The book’s secrets are ready to be discovered by children and adults alike. There is an irresistible surge of energy that envelopes you from the moment you open the cover. An air of unpredictability and pure playfulness permeates these pages.

The book opens with a well-written introduction by the author, Larry Broutman, that tells the backstory and inspiration behind the book’s creation. It’s uplifting to read of the serendipitous developments that led to the final publication. 

The book is divided into three sections: “Just Imagine!," "Now Showing!," and "Sightings!", and each section has a unique flavor that features photographs of Chicago children Photoshopped into various whimsical and fantastical environments and scenarios. 

In “Just Imagine!” we see the pages of a fictional newspaper, the Chicago Pretender, which retells classic fairy tales, famous children’s literature, and popular nursery rhymes with a modern twist. I laughed at the humorous headlines and “man-on-the-street” reporter perspective that dryly recounts beloved children's stories as though they were breaking the news with “still developing” details. The children are featured in many of the rhymes themselves, giving an immediacy and a contemporary perspective to the tales we all know. 

“Now Showing!” is touted as the “Museum Edition” where kids “step into the picture,” and its pictures are stunning. Familiar artworks feature children immersed in those environments, providing contrast and insight that ranges from comedic to moving. This section was probably my favorite because I have always enjoyed art books with their richly colored and detailed images reproduced to perfection on shiny, high-quality paper.

In “Sightings!” the author takes us to several famous Chicago landmarks. The text provided for each location, structure, or attraction provides history and interesting factoids. The photos focus on animals, and the juxtaposition of wild creatures in places like Millennium Park and Navy Pier provides a surprise. Koalas on the Chicago River Walk and penguins at the Chicago Theater? Yes, please.

The back of the book offers the authors' "Afterthoughts," which gives a joyful perspective on what has occurred since the book's creation. We see the children from the earlier pages, older now, thriving and happy. We also learn that all proceeds from Chicago Treasure are donated to Access Living and The Chicago Lighthouse for People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired—two Chicago nonprofit organizations that improve lives first-hand. 

Chicago Treasure is a terrific book to read in short stints to a child at bedtime, but it is also the perfect book to sit and read all at once, absorbing the classic stories that tell a modern-day tale of access, fun, and love. A treasure indeed.


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