New children’s book takes kids through Chicago neighborhoods

By EVAN HAMLIN
Herald Intern

Chicago’s most visible landmarks are often what people conjure up in their heads when they picture the windy city. Students across the country learn about the city’s industrious past and dynamic present, but what about the local institutions and neighborhoods that Chicago residents call home?

Author Kathleen Dragan set out to educate young readers about some of the unique neighborhoods that give Chicago its heart and soul. Her new book “Rickshaw Reggie” follows a curious young boy and his dubious grandmother across Chicago. They’re scooped up by Rickshaw Reggie, an eccentric pedicab guide, who takes them through the city.

Dragan will visit Hyde Park this month where she will read from her new book “Rickshaw Reggie.” She’ll visit the Hyde Park Neighborhood Club, 5480 S. Kenwood Ave. at 2 p.m. on Oct. 8. She’ll also read her book during story time at 57th Street Books, 301 E. 57th St., at 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 21.

Dragan set out to research neighborhoods first before exploring them in person, laying out a historical background to preface her fieldwork.

“I started with a couple different books that were really useful,” Dragan said. “The Chamber of Commerce website would give me a feel for the neighborhood. Acadia publishing did these neighborhood by neighborhood books, and I would identify between 45 and 60 places in the neighborhood that I wanted to check out.”

She relied on neighborhood residents for the most valuable kind of guidance and information, stuff she wouldn’t find in a book.

“The best people to talk to in Chicago about neighborhoods are older folks,” Dragan said. “It sounds kind of crazy but I would just walk up to people in parks and say: ‘hello my name is Kathleen do you live here?’”

Most important to the search was the author’s own children. Dragan said that she chose to emphasize things and places that struck their interest especially.

“I would take my kids to these neighborhoods and something would seem really cool but until it passed the kid test it wasn’t going in the book,” she said, adding that her kids pushed her to explore new places throughout the writing process. “I knew I found something good if a couple weeks later they’d bring it up.”

One neighborhood to pass this critical “kid test” was Hyde Park.

Through her research, Dragan dug into “Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson. The historical novel explores the 1893 World’s Fair and how the monumental event laid the groundwork for the modern city of Chicago.

“I had read that before I moved to Chicago but reading that book after you live in Chicago is like reading a whole new book,” Dragan said. “I learned about all the different inventions that were there, which was really interesting. The city is what it is today in large part because of the plans that were laid at that exposition.”

The two-page spread dedicated to Hyde Park highlights recognizable landmarks and local mainstays alike. The page even takes note of the forthcoming Obama Presidential Center, an exciting albeit controversial part of the community’s future.

“I think Hyde Park is a neighborhood which has undergone many different iterations of itself, now it’s kind of poised on the next big thing,” she said.

For more information about the book visit www.rickshawreggie.com, or @RickshawReggie.

hpherald@hpherald.com