Walking book fair takes over Hyde Park on Sunday

As others wait in line,Stefani Lummen and her children Josie (on the left) and Teddy (in Stefani’s arms) check out Hyde Park Bank’s table during the 33rd Annual Children’s Book Fair, Sunday, September 20, 2020. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Children’s Book Fair this year was a “walking book fair.” Participants strolled through Hyde Park, visited one of nine locations, viewed performances, received free books, and got clues to a “silly phrase.”

The 35th Annual Children’s Book Fair and the 61st Fall Garden Fair are returning in full for the first time this weekend, following two years of scaled-down or lapsed celebrations due to the pandemic. 

The weekend kicks off with the Fall Garden Fair, a counterpart to the spring fair and Chicago’s oldest community garden sale. It will be held on Saturday, September 17, at the Hyde Park Shopping Center, 55th St. and Lake Park Ave., from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.. 

After a wildly successful spring Garden Fair, the fall sale will be slightly smaller, primarily selling bulbs and chrysanthemums, including some specialty bulbs (like alliums and irises), daffodils, tulips, crocuses and hyacinths. 

Joy Rosner, chair of the bulb sale for 35 years, orders bulbs from the Netherland Bulb Company, which sells Dutch bulbs from Holland—a longtime destination for bulb sales and the site of ‘Tulip Mania,’ a 17th century speculative frenzy over tulip bulbs imported from the Ottoman Empire. 

This year’s order was running late, due to summer heat waves in Europe, Rosner said. However, there will be around 9,000 bulbs sold on Saturday, and they will only be missing paperwhites, a type of daffodil good for forcing (grown inside, rather than outdoors). 

There will also be some house plants and perennials, such as ornamentals like kale, cabbage and peppers. Everything can be planted this fall.  

“A good gardener wants to have plants in bloom from March until November,” said organizer George Rumsey. He added that he has things blooming in February most years, like snowdrops, which—true to their name—come up through the snow. Chrysanthemums are immediate bloomers, while bulbs stay in the ground until they bloom in the late winter to early summer. 

The bulbs rely on cold, said Rumsey, and they should be placed in a refrigerator or planted about six inches deep in the soil.  

Both Rumsey and Rosner emphasized that the entirely volunteer-run day will have plenty of people around to answer any questions about fall planting. 

“They should definitely talk to any of us who are out there selling because we all grow these bulbs in our own yards. You know, we have Hyde Park experience, so we know what’s working, what’s come back and what squirrels dig up,” Rumsey said. 

The profits from the fair are divided between different area nonprofit organizations, with about 60% going towards maintaining the gardens in Nichols Park, to Growing Home, an Englewood-based urban farm, workforce development center and nonprofit social enterprise, and to other community groups as requested; the other 40% goes to the Hyde Park-Kenwood Community Conference

“(The bulbs) are really quite wonderful. And it’s such a bright color to the winter and early spring doldrums, when everything is sort of gray,” Rosner said.

The Children’s Book Fair

The Children’s Book Fair will be held on Sunday, September 18, at the corner of 57th St. and Kimbark Ave., from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The fair was held last year at Ray Elementary, 5631 S. Kimbark Ave., but at a much smaller scale than years past.

This year’s fair will still be smaller than those held pre-pandemic, but will feature crowd favorites — Marsha’s Music, The Music Teachers of Hyde Park, South Side Suzuki, Hyde Park School of Dance and several storytellers. State Sen. Robert Peters (D-13th) will also do a reading of his favorite book, “Where the Wild Things Are.”

As in previous book fairs, children can pick out books and visit with 20 community organizations and vendors, meet local authors, listen to readings at the Fairy Castle and the Great Green Room (from “Goodnight Moon”) stages, as well as watch music and dance performances. They will also have a sketch artist and balloon animals.

Mother Goose and the Kenwood Academy band will lead the parade at 11:30 a.m.; Cloud said that anyone is welcome to come in costume and march along with them.   

“We are just going for the tried and true this year,” said first-time organizer Patricia Cloud. 

Cloud is organizing the fair with her adult daughter, Anna Sawyer, who attended the book fair yearly as a child. “You can see it from our front window,” said Cloud.  

The theme of this fair is banned books, to mark the start of Banned Books Week on Sunday, and they will have an exhibit for essays submitted about banned books, as well as prizes for the best. 

Founded by Rebecca Janowitz in 1986, as a way to save the O’Gara and Wilson bookshop (then located at 1448 E. 57th St.) from a leasing dispute, the fair was held at Nichols Park for a number of years, before returning to 57th Street. (It was originally called the 57th Street Children’s Book Fair).

All events will take place on 57th St. between Woodlawn and Dorchester avenues, and on Kimbark Avenue between 57th and 56th streets.

“I think a lot of people who have missed a fair over the last few years are going to enjoy seeing their old favorites,” Cloud said. 

staff writer

Zoe Pharo is a graduate of Carleton College. She was recently an editorial intern for In These Times, and has also written for Little Village and Chapel Hill Magazine. 

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