Writers and readers alike, rejoice! Chicago is home to a new museum tailored just for us.
The husband and I spent Thursday afternoon absorbing the halls and galleries of the American Writers Museum, 180 N. Michigan Ave.
An elevator ride to the second floor brings you to the museum, which is small enough to tackle in a day but large enough to be worth the $12 admittance for adults (children 12 and younger enter free). Listed below is my review of several elements of the site.
Family friendliness: A+
The AWM has displays for all age levels, and the abundance of interactive content is engaging across generations. Upon entering the museum, visitors are encouraged to touch the displays. The children’s gallery is the first one visitors are likely to see, and the room is full of children’s books and kid lit-related art and activities. All books featured in displays are available for reading and thumbing through pages. There are games, quizzes, videos, photographs, audio, touch screens …
The facility size is also a plus for families. The entire museum can be covered in half a day, which leaves time for lunch and another activity in downtown Chicago. Prices are especially reasonable for families with young children, since anyone under age 12 can come in free.
Educational value: A
Every school English class and literature class should visit the AWM. This museum is perfect to keep students of all ages engaged while loading them with knowledge.
For elementary students, the Children’s Literature Gallery is perfect. Larger-than-life murals and illustrations accompany shelves filled with children’s books for all levels of young readers, from beginner to middle grade. There’s also a fun wheel of emotions kids can spin and then act out the emotion they land on in a mirror. The activity is inspired by Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” is which main character Max deals with a variety of emotions.
In the Mind of a Writer hall, kids also will enjoy typing on typewriters — probably a first for most of them. The typewriter ribbons are full of ink, and stacks of paper allow anyone to tap away a mini masterwork.
For older students (middle school and up), one of the most prominent displays in the museum is the American Voices hall, featuring a timeline of American literature aligning with significant historical events. Each author has a rotating, three-sided display with a short biography and interesting facts. Accompanying these displays are a variety of interactive opportunities, such as a Q&A about who invented five genres and a touch-screen TV allowing visitors to choose from three talks about the development of the American literary voice.
The Mind of a Writer hall offers educational writing tips on the Anatomy of a Masterwork wall and interactive opportunities to write dialogue with the Do-It-Yourself Dialogue Generator, compare your writing habits with famous authors, and play a digital game similar to Mad Libs in which you use a word bank to fill in the blanks of a book passage.
The AWM gets high marks on two levels of diversity:
- The diversity of author voices and backgrounds.
- The variety of writing types, including children’s literature, novels, poetry, screenplays, music, journalism, etc.
There’s a good balance of representing authors, writing, and reading. The Readers Hall offers a few of my favorite activities of the day, including the chance to rank my five favorite books by American authors and compare those rankings against the books selected by previous visitors. The perimeter of the room also features facts and Q&A trivia about libraries, the launch of kid lit, newspaper readership, the rise of paperbacks, how magazines and literature became accessible to the masses, and more.
In the future, I would love to see more displays added on the literature itself. I felt a strong connection to the authors’ works in the children’s room with behind-the-scenes facts about “Where the Wild Things Are” and a display built around “Charlotte’s Web,” but I felt a disconnect among the adult displays. However, this could be due to an oversight on my part. The nearly 60-foot Surprise Bookshelf display features more than 100 authors and titles, but I didn’t realize the panels of the display slide to share interesting facts about the work or author. I only browsed the titles and authors displayed.
The gift displays on either side of the front desk may look small at first glance, but they’re full of treasures for readers and writers. There’s a decent selection of literary T-shirts, books on writing, plush toys inspired by famous authors and stories, home decor (I came home with library card coasters and an art print, plus a candle for a friend), mugs, pens, magnets, scarves, writing gloves, notebooks, a couple of games, and another dozen things I’m probably forgetting.