Bringing Families Together during Challenging Times through Storytime at a Chicago Jail

Thanks to the dream of a dedicated librarian, a Chicago jail has gained a welcoming storytime space for its youngest visitors.

The vision of one late librarian blossomed into an inviting early literacy space for children visiting their incarcerated parents.

Children seated on cozy carpet squares eagerly await the start of storytime. The room is filled with the anticipation of flannel board storytelling and beloved picture book read-alouds. This scene is a familiar one, even in the bustling visiting area of the Maximum Security Division of the Cook County Department of Corrections in Chicago. Since 2023, Sunday Storytimes has been a beacon of joy, serving hundreds of children and families who are visiting loved ones detained at the Chicago jail.

Storytime is just one component of “Becca’s Place,” a specially designed early literacy space installed in memory of Rebecca “Becca” Ruidl, a children’s library administrator. Becca died from the long COVID-19 pandemic in 2022.

“A space for early literacy and play at the Cook County Department of Corrections was always a wish of Becca’s,” states Liz McChesney, who served as Becca’s supervisor at the Chicago Public Library. Liz, now the Director of Community Engagement for the LaundryCares Foundation, says, “At her funeral, Becca’s mom asked us to keep her daughter’s dream alive to create a way for joyful early literacy to happen at the DOC.”


Take action today to support libraries!


“Creating a space in Becca’s honor that is warm, welcoming, promotes joyful learning, and is brimming with great children’s books was a way to honor our beloved colleague and friend and heed her mom’s very poignant request,” says McChesney.

Dr. Nneka Jones Tapia, the clinical psychologist in charge of justice reform at the not-for-profit Chicago Beyond, partnered with LaundryCares to help bring the space to life. “This space is transformed from a cold and unwelcoming environment to one of laughter, love, and great books,” adds Dr. Jones Tapia.

Fast forward a year and a half after the dedication of Becca’s Place: Children now run into this joyful nook with smiles on their faces, eager to find their favorite puppet, build with colorful blocks, act out a scene in a specially designed playhouse, or find a friend they have made on a previous visit and play together with educational toys which fill the space.


Sign the petition to show that Americans love their libraries!


“Story Hour felt like the next natural extension of space,” says Liz, “Stories have the power to heal us, to move us, and to bring us together. The act of sharing stories in Becca’s Place is a radical act of joyful learning and love,” Liz continues.

“And, when we pair story hour with book giveaways, we promote the critical act of sharing language and connecting through story. We empower families to build essential home libraries. These books become physical symbols of family love, fostering hope in the face of detainment. Indeed, through generous donors, the twice-a-month storytimes have been augmented by each child taking a new, beautiful book for their own.”


Send an email to your Representatives to show your support for libraries!


“I like that storytime is happening because it keeps my child learning while we wait,” states a mom who asked to remain anonymous. “And I love, love, love choosing new books,” states her grinning five-year-old daughter.

“Over three hundred children a week visit the Maximum Security Waiting Area in Division X of our Department of Corrections,” says Ron Howard, a Supervising Sheriff at Cook County Department of Corrections. “We continue to welcome LaundryCares Foundation in creating a curated space and learning opportunities like Sunday Storytime for our families. To spend time while waiting for a visit and see kids now engaged in learning activities transforms everything about the visit and makes it more successful for everyone.” The smiling faces of a mom and her daughter with a new copy of Pete the Cat confirm it all.



Visit to learn more about our work on behalf of libraries. 

#librarymarketers: Enjoy this story? Want to use it for your library newsletter, blog, or social media? This article is published under Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International and is free to edit and use with attribution. Please cite EveryLibrary on

This work by EveryLibrary is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0