News & Events

Things For Which We Are Thankful; An Incomplete But Heartfelt List

November 24th—

Our students, parents, families and their brilliantly creative minds. Our volunteers and their unwavering enthusiasm and commitment. Our partner teachers, whose wisdom and energy inspire us daily. Our interns, who work tirelessly to make everything we do so much better. Our store customers, whose purchases of Fingertip Lasers and assorted ephemera make our work possible.

Our generous donors, who support us at every turn in deeply meaningful and sometimes unexpected ways. Our sister chapters, who inspire us to bring the absolute best programs to our students and families.

And, finally, we are grateful for the enormous container of Jelly Bellies, which fueled the composition of this very post.

Week 2: Brentano Elementary Book Project

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November 10th—

In our second session with the young writers of Brentano Math and Science Academy, students focused on beginning to develop their stories’ settings and deepening the development of their characters.

Using character details from our first lesson as a jumping off point, volunteers coached students on crafting settings full of description and sensory detail, thereby helping readers clearly “see” the worlds that students had so vividly imagined. Monsters’ homes ranged from the basement of the Brentano Math and Science Academy to Chicago’s own Campbell St (but only in the spring or summertime) to Mount Everest.

Next, we re-convened for an all-class discussion about the narrative arc of a story, focusing on how stories open. When we reviewed the terms protagonist and antagonist, one student was quick to point out that, often, “We only root for the protagonist because that’s the perspective we’re following. It’s all a matter of whose perspective we’re seeing.”

Once we had a firm grasp on characters, setting, and status quo, volunteers supported students as they determined what their monster wants more than anything in the world, and what their monster is most afraid of. We intend to eventually use our monsters’ fears to create obstacles, which they’ll need to (non-violently) overcome in order to achieve their desires.

Excerpts From The Student Bestiary
>> Chris’s monster: Haley, who wants to get married, but is stopped every time she tries by her brother, who is named Six Eyes on account of his many (presumably: six) eyes.

>> Oscar’s monster: A disgraced monster prince, forced to wander the desert as penance for his wrongdoings.

Next Up: Plot development! Using blank storyboarding panels, the young writers will focus on using specific moments of action and spoken dialogue to explore the concepts of rising action and climax.

CLICK HERE to read all about Week One with the Brentano students / the Young Authors Book Project as a whole!

Youth Advisory Board Reads at Pop-Up Library

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November 5th—

Youth Advisory Board writers Kendall, Imaan, Lucie, Avery, and Cristina represented 826CHI at the opening celebration of Read/Write Library Chicago's "Rewritable Wicker Park" pop-up, sharing excerpts from their latest chapbook, We Tell the Story from the Margins then donating the publication to Read/Write's ever-evolving library.

Stop by the pop-up any time this November—it's located in the Boombox plaza just next door to us! Photos thisaway >>

Publish Your Work in the 826CHI Compendium

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November 4th—

Are the young writers in your world interested in publishing their work professionally? Submissions to The 826CHI Compendium Volume V are open until December 1st. Details >>

Published once every two years at 826CHI, The Compendium is an anthology filled with the work of Chicago’s outstanding young authors. We are calling for the poems and stories that they're most proud of— pieces that are creative, imaginative, playful, meaningful, and moving.

Everyone who lives in the city of Chicago and is between the ages of 6 and 18 is welcome to submit! Please help us spread the word.

Young Authors Book Project at Brentano Elementary: Week One

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November 3rd—

What's a Young Authors Book Project?
Our Young Authors Book Project (YABP) is published annually as the result of an in-depth, yearlong writing partnership with a class of Chicago students. This year’s YABP explores Monsters, Beasts, and Mythical Creatures with two 5th grade classes from Avondale’s Brentano Math & Science Academy.

This project encourages students to explore monsters from a more sympathetic angle than we might find in campfire stories or legends, and with the help of passionate volunteers and intern advisors, students receive weekly feedback and guidance from inception to publication. 826CHI will release the finished book—title TBD—at Printer’s Row Lit Fest in June 2016. We’ll be blogging about its creation all along the way. 826CHI is looking to recruit Chicago-area illustrators to visually interpret students’ fantastic beasts for the published anthology.  If you—or someone you know—are interested in contributing to the visual aspect of this story, please email

Monsters, Beasts, and Mythical Creatures: Week One
In our first session together, students shared their fears, which ranged from needles, bugs, spiders, and gremlins to "the darkness that comes after midnight." We used this as a jumping off point for discussing why we are afraid of things, arriving at the consensus that our imaginations can cause us to be scared even when there's nothing to fear. This helped us consider how stories can help us make sense of the unknown.

Next, students read Maya Angelou’s poem “Life Doesn't Frighten Me” aloud and discussed whether or not we believed that Angelou's speaker truly wasn’t frightened. From there, we examined Jean-Michel Basquiat’s illustrations for the poem and explored how those could be scary. The highlight, of course, was one precocious student who insisted that the drawings were scary “because he [Basquiat] wasn't a very good artist," but we also talked about how the chaos of the drawings and the lack of clear figures made the drawings scary. This conversation generated the idea that "fears can transform or change."

Using a Character-O-Matic, we explored our monsters' wants, fears, and secret facts as a way to cement them in their world—our goal is to explore these monsters as unique individuals, rather than a monolithic race of boogeymen. Think John Gardner's Grendel or Dave Eggers's The Wild Things, as opposed to Newt Scamander's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. To further help the students, we encouraged them to characterize their monsters as a single, fantastical aspect of a mundane world or as part of a fantastical world that—to these monsters—appears mundane. We think they grasped this concept swimmingly, as you’ll see below:

Excerpts from the Student Bestiary:
>> Isabella’s monster: A half sheep, half human who is afraid of being different and eats his own wool when he gets nervous.
>> Silva’s monster: Three immortal morphing kittens, one of whom wants a footlong Italian sub more than anything in the world.

Next Up:
A lesson on how stories begin, focusing on how a specific setting with lots of details is important for grounding readers in the world of the story. We’ll also explore how our monsters’ wants should drive the story forward, and how their fears will provide roadblocks to overcome, in order to reach a satisfying resolution.

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826CHI is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6 to 18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

Our services are structured around the understanding that great leaps in learning can happen with one-on-one attention, and that strong writing skills are fundamental to future success.

With this in mind, we provide after-school tutoring, weekend workshops, in-schools tutoring, help for English language learners, and assistance with student publications. All of our programs are challenging and enjoyable, and ultimately strengthen each student’s power to express ideas effectively, creatively, confidently, and in their individual voice.


826CHI shares its space with The Wicker Park Secret Agent Supply Co.—run by the neighborhood's only spy supplyists—which outfits its spy-entele with the latest and greatest in espionagical wares. All funds raised through sales in the store go to support 826CHI's free programming. Visit us in Wicker Park and pick up a fresh grappling hook, carrier pigeon, envelope X-ray spray, hollowed-out can of shaving cream, or weather-resistant notebook, or shop online