One of the biggest challenges in parenting is always putting on a set of mommy/daddy goggles to discover great places for the family. Sure there are a lot of places here in Chicago, in fact there are so many options that sites like us (Chicagonista) where equally active and experienced Chicago parent writers can help maneuver the family around. Not an easy task as well, but a new book called Chicken in the Car and the Car Won’t Go: Nearly 200 Ways To Enjoy Chicagoland with Tweens and Teens by Melisa Wells made it even more fun for us to discover or rediscover family-friendly places in Chicago.
We caught up with Wells during her book launching party sponsored by GM - Driving The Midwest. There were about 75 attendees that enjoyed Chicago’s breathtaking views from the river that set a stage for her new travel guidebook. Check out the video of the boat launch party and learn more about Wells and her book on an email interview below.
Chicagonista: Can you tell us a how did you come to write this book?
Melisa Wells: A few years ago, I had just gone back to part-time work and couldn’t justify sending my boys to a full-day, four-week long summer camp as I had the two years before, when I was working full-time. Since I had plenty of time to spend with my kids that year, I thought, “Hey, I wonder what we could do TOGETHER this summer, all summer long, with the same amount of money I’d be spending on that camp?” I started doing research, and then I brought my kids (then 10 and nearly 13 years old) in on the plan. They helped me develop a budget and a “camp calendar”. It was not only a fun exercise, but an early lesson in finances. I taught them that we had to stay within a certain budget, and if we ever traded out one experience that was on the calendar for another, we’d have to see if the budget could absorb it or if we’d have to make cutbacks somewhere in order to fit it in. Camp Wells was so successful that year that they started talking about “next year” almost immediately! That’s when my husband suggested that I had so much information, I should write a book.
Chicagonista: What’s with the title of your book?
Melisa Wells: It comes from some 1930s-40s verse that my mom used to chant all the time: “Chicken in the car and the car won’t go, that’s how you spell Chi-ca-go. Knife and a fork and a bottle and a cork, that’s how you spell New York.” It was such a cute thing that I had to use it. Of course, my mom is thrilled.
Chicagonista: Is the book mainly written for parents?
Melisa Wells: I don’t think the book is mainly written for parents. Definitely not, in fact. Because it has information that is geared towards families with tweens and teens (and encompasses both the city AND the suburbs, which is unprecedented in a guide as comprehensive as this one), I really intended it to be a guide for whole families to use in planning great activities they can enjoy together, like I did (and still do!) with my boys. I think the style in which I wrote the book lends itself to be a quick read, a really good reference that is accessible to people of any age. Incidentally, I should mention that the book is 100% usable for adults who don’t have teens in the family. Also, though there are things listed which little kids can’t do because of their age or size, the majority of the book is usable for families with younger children, too.
Chicagonista: What are your top 3 personal family Chicago destination favorites?
Melisa Wells: Of course I get this question all the time, and I hate limiting myself to three faves. BUT…the three that come to my mind at the moment (subject to change the next time someone asks me!) are:
Uncle Fun: This quirky shop on Belmont is great because you can find everything from magic tricks to vintage postcards to practical jokes to old books to Charlie’s Angels trading cards (yes, from the 70s). The store is set-up so that you have to rummage through drawers and bins full of cool items, and the staff is totally laid back and fun.
American Science and Surplus: Another shop, there are two locations: one in Chicago and one in West Chicago/Geneva. What I love about this place, which is full of military, electronic, and science surplus as well as all kinds of miscellaneous items that you can’t even imagine, is that you can give a kid five dollars upon entry and he will spend from 60-90 minutes shopping, and will leave with a small bag full of items. (I’ve done this with my kids many, many times) The staff writes hilarious shelf descriptions for the items that are for sale, making this place not only a place to shop but also a place to be entertained.
Millennium Park: I still can’t believe that Millennium Park hasn’t been here forever; it seems like it blended into the city immediately and I can’t remember what that area looked like before. I take every single out-of-town visitor I have to Millennium Park, because it’s beautiful and there are so many distinct features to check out. I could watch children play in the waters at the Crown Fountain for hours: their delight when the faces (of Chicago residents, specifically selected for the filming, I might add) that flask on the big screens seem to “spit” water down on them every fifteen minutes is adorable. Cloud Gate, the sculpture by Anish Kapoor which we locals refer to as “The Bean”, is a great place to take a photograph. The Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to see a performance or even do a free workout–on its Great Lawn–on Saturday mornings. I am dazzled by the Park every time I visit.
Chicagonista: Where can we find the book?
Melisa Wells: Folks can order signed copies from my website, http://chickeninthecar.com. It’s available on Amazon too, and I’m currently working on getting it into the indie book shops around Chicagoland as well as some of the larger chain stores. It was literally just released in the last two weeks, so as time goes on it’ll be found in more and more places!
Chicagonista: What’s next for you?
Melisa Wells: Well, writing a book is the easy part. I’m definitely not “done”, where this book is concerned: I have lots of marketing still to do, so I can’t much look beyond the next few months of that. I do have other books that I know I want to write (the next one is a children’s book), but I’m trying not to look too far ahead. My biggest, most important goal at the moment is to “re-enter” normal life so that I can spend lots of time with my husband and sons this summer!
And by the way, Melisa, the proud mama added that her graphic design major 19 year old son designed her book cover. Congrats to Melisa and son!