IN THE NEWS
all the latest news about the book. Come back often, as this area
is updated frequently.
|Barbara's Bookstore - Oak Park
CHICAGO AUTHOR WINS INTERNATIONAL BOOK AWARD
Caryn Lazar Amster, (Elk Grove, Illinois) author of The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago recently won Honorable Mention in the 13th Annual Writer’s Digest Magazine’s International Self-Published Book Awards in the Family Stories category for her true Chicago story. The book will be featured in the Magazine’s March issue.
The judge’s review praised the book and the writing. “The author is a very good writer. She knows how to ‘show’ (not tell). Though this book is the personal account of her father’s life, death and impact on a Chicago neighborhood, the author keeps the reader engaged with vivid story-telling. The Pied Piper of South Shore contained the best writing (in terms of craft) of the entries this judge received. It’s a moving, vivid story of a terrible crime, its causes and aftermath, and of one family’s ability to preserve a decent hard-working, life-impacting man’s legacy.”
Amster's book is her own family story, a true crime story of her father, innovative Chicago toy store owner Manny Lazar, known as the Pied Piper of South Shore. It is set primarily in Chicago's South Shore neighborhood in the 1950s and 60s. It takes readers from Russian persecution to American freedom, from Hula Hoops to hit men, It is the story of two children of immigrants, how they built both their American dream and their richly diverse neighborhood in which each fell prey to the brutality of gangs. The foreword to the book is by Emmy and Tony award-winning singer and actor Mandy Patinkin.
The Pied Piper of South Shore also won the USA Book News "Best of 2004" award in the True Crime category and received an all "5" top rating from the 12th Annual award from the same magazine in the Non-Fiction category. It has received rave reviews from local and national newspapers, websites, publications, book groups and audiences.
Listen in on a recent nostalgic Chicago South Shore interview. Chicago radio and television personality Dean Richards (former South Shore resident), recently interviewed Mitch Markovitz (South Shoreite and book cover artist) and me about South Shore in the .50s and .60s and my new award winning true South Shore story, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago.
Click Here to listen
Read Caryn recent review from bookwired.com
Review: The Pied Piper of South Shore
by BookWired Reviews
More Details about Pied Piper of South Shore by Bookwired and read the review at Bookwired.com
The Pied Piper of South Shore by Caryn Lazar Amster
Bookwired.com Book Review Copyright 2005 bookwired.com
Chicago history is like any other big city in the world. On a day to day basis we see the good in each city we travel to. Yet there are things we do not want to see and thankfully most of us miss them. However there happens to be the other part of us that is intrigued by the conspiracies local, State, and Federal Officials constantly deny.
Most normal murders are of hate and jealousy. Of course there are murders that are planned and to the naked eye seem unreasonable. There was no hate, there was no jealousy but the murderer makes a statement. Someone who is robbing a store will case out the store, this takes time, in 99 percent of the cases the thief will get what he wants before causing any harm, if he or she plans harm.
In this book we see a lot of history, based around a toy store that lasted over twenty years. The writer makes us see, and feel the laid back Chicago between the time of World War II and the late 1970's. Others in the book that were there including some big names we all know, tell us about the people, the times, and of course the toy store they frequented.
The book also covers, in great detail, using real names, how many of the so called "voice of the people" came into power, and by what means they did so. There are no apologies and there should be none. This part of the book alone is worth the price, what the average American or non-American will learn just from this will give you nightmares. Hopefully it will wake many up regardless of their race, color or creed.
The book covers the life of a murdered man, but it is much more than that. It covers the history of a family, and like your family, it too has a history. Each of us has a story, and this story is worth reading. The history of Chicago through The Pied Piper of South Shore, is a historical masterpiece and worth your time, no matter what part of the world you are from."
http://bookwired.com reviews at bookwired dot com
Recent review by Fearless Reviews
|The Pied Piper of South Shore
Toys and Tragedy in Chicago
by Caryn Lazar Amster
304 pages, paperback
This book is less about toys than about people. It’s the story of a store, a family, a neighborhood – how they all came together and then fell apart. The Lazars were a Jewish family who immigrated to America from Russia before the second World War. Then in 1945 they opened a store called Wee Folks, which sold children’s clothes and furniture and toys. The cozy atmosphere and friendly service made the store a mainstay of the neighborhood for years.
Manny Lazar was murdered in 1970 by a gunman who broke into the store intending robbery, and panicked – though the shooter did turn out to be a serial killer as well. The death of “Mr. Wee Folks” cut the heart out of the neighborhood, which quickly dwindled as everyone who could move away did so. It had been getting rougher for some time; that was the last straw.
The Pied Piper of South Shore is an amazing blend of history, biography, sociology, and economics told from a profoundly human perspective. The world needs more books like this – and more people like Manny Lazar. He’s in good company though; saints usually do get murdered in the line of duty. It’s a wonder they even keep coming here. But there’s a note of hope in this book, despite the tragedy. It’s a wonderful picture of how people can positively influence each other’s lives, even while doing something as simple as running a toy store. Recommended. — S.ARDRIAN • 12•05
Review by: Melissa Flicek – for www. womenwriters.net - June 2005
The old writer’s adage states: “write what you know.” This is meant to be an inspiring mantra, but it can oftentimes be more challenging than rewarding. Writing what you know can be much harder than it seems. A text that emerges from life experience can oftentimes lack clarity, be too personal for an outside audience to understand, or quite frankly, be dull. This is not the case with the Pied Piper of SouthShore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago by Caryn Lazar Amster. In her first book, Amster succeeds in telling the story of her family – from their immigration to America to living the American dream by owning a successful and influential toy store named “Wee Folks.” Amster narrates her story with a clear, factual, and captivating voice.
By relating her family’s tale, she delves into the ever-changing ethnic landscape of the South Side of Chicago where her family lived and worked as well as provides background on the discrimination against Jewish populations in Eastern Europe and America. In a powerful opening chapter, she relives the trauma of the tragic murder of her father. Throughout the next six chapters, Amster tells us how he lived by tracing her family’s roots from Europe to America. In the last chapter, she comes back to her father’s death and the trial for his murder. Amster’s narrative flows through these various milestones in her family history with emotional balance, factual accuracy, and a quick wit.
I applaud Caryn Lazar Amster’s for taking it upon herself to both write and self-publish this tribute to her family, the American dream and the immigrant experience. She seamlessly weaves the personal with the political by placing her family’s lives in relation to historic, world events through the telling of their stories. The Pied Piper of SouthShore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago is a must read for Chicagoans and outsiders alike. It is a story that had to be told
AUTHOR WINS BOOK AWARD
FOR CHICAGO TRUE CRIME
USA Book News
"Best Books 2004" Awards
"The Pied Piper of South Shore is an incredible true crime story about the life and death of a beloved toy retailer. Author Caryn Lazar Amster, the eldest daughter of toy store owner Manny Lazar, shares with readers the rich tapestry and sacrifices her parents made to enjoy the freedoms provided for in America, and, how ultimately, the ugly face of crime visited this family on South Shore. A story filled with loss, survival and ultimately forgiveness, USA Book News is proud to award The Pied Piper of South Shore the USA Book News 'Best Book 2004' Award in the True Crime Category."
Visit "The Peter Files" blog and read the memories
of Peter, a former Wee Folks customer, after he
discovered The Pied Piper of South Shore book.
It was a pleasure reading your book, Caryn and I feel proud at having had a hand in encouraging it along. Among the many things I admire about it is the way it sets a particular, personal story within the large sweep of history and sociology and politics. Thinking about those novelist.s tools we worked with a few summers ago, incidents like the furnace explosion and the flood that follows close on its heels are wonderfully effective at thematically setting up the main tragedy of the story, giving us a sense that danger has always been lurking beneath and behind the idyllic world you.ve been portraying. The furnace incident also contributes greatly to the characterization of your father, showing vulnerability both in his impatient and unwise actions and in the speed with which he was incapacitated. Other terrific moments of characterization occur in his proudly winding and winding that new watch until he breaks it, and in his exuberantly dynamiting a tunnel under the street. ... I admire your scrupulousness about sources. And I very much admire the way you explore the enormous complexity of demographic changes during the sixties. You.ve done a wonderful job with this powerful, complex, sad, and inspiring story, Caryn. Congratulations.
Professor of the Year
Dr. Lon Otto
Dr. Lon Otto, a member of St. Thomas' English Department since 1974, did his undergraduate studies in New York and in California. He received his bachelor.s degree summa cum laude from Pomona College in 1970 and his doctorate in English from Indiana University in 1974, the year he came to St. Thomas.
Named a full professor in 1986, Otto teaches both graduate and undergraduate English classes. He especially enjoys teaching interdisciplinary courses and seminars.
When not teaching, Otto often is writing. Since coming to St. Thomas he.s published two collections of short stories, Cover Me and A Nest of Hooks, and a chapbook, Water Bodies. He has several writing projects underway, including a novel, Flower Trade, and a collection of short stories, Man in Trouble. His poetry and fiction have won a host of awards.
Medinah, Illinois – The new Chicago historical fiction book, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago just hit the streets September 1st, 2004 and already the author, Caryn Lazar Amster has won her first book award. The award is the USA Book News “Best of 2004” Award. Amster won in the True Crime category. All winners will be LIVE on USABookNews.com and announced nationally beginning mid-November.
Chicago Jewish News - Jewish Chicago's Hometown Newspaper
Star Newspapers - Serving the South and Southwest Suburbs
Thursday, November 11, 2004
Author discusses South Shore book
Caryn Lazar Amster, author of the new book, "The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago," will discuss her Chicago South Shore roots and the experience of writing her book at the Grand Prairie Public Library, 3479 W. 183rd St., Hazel Crest, 1-3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 14.
From 1976-1981, Amster wrote the Caryn's Corner column on Antiques and Collectibles as well as features covering Chicago area antique events and local collectors for The Star.
The true family, true crime book begins in Chicago's South Shore in 1970, when a gang member gunned down her father who was affectionately known as the Pied Piper of South Shore. The story describes the life of her parents, Belle and Manny Lazar, and their toy store, Wee Folks. In gritty detail, Amster takes readers from her parent's Russian Jewish persecution to their American freedom, from Hula Hoops to hit men, from murder to trial. Emmy and Tony Award winning actor and singer Mandy Patinkin, a long time customer wrote the foreword.
This will also be a United States Marine Corps Toys For Tots event. Bring new, unwrapped toys for underprivileged children. For information on the event contact the library at (708) 798-5563.
TOYS AND TRAGEDY: Remembering the Pied Piper of South Shore
It's a story that begins with the children of Russian Jewish immigrants who met in 1936 in Joliet, where Belle Rosen was teaching Sunday school at the Joliet Jewish Congregation when she met Manny Lazar, the superintendent at a furniture factory. They married the next year and settled in Hyde Park on the South Side of Chicago. By 1944 they were ready to begin to live the American dream-opening their own business.
Chicago Jewish News,
November 10, 2004 Issue
Pioneer Press Newspapers - 11/4/04
American Dream turns into nightmare
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
Painstakingly poring over 3,000 pages of Microfiche in the Daley Center, Elk Grove Village author Caryn Lazar Amster found a bullet-by-bullet account of her father's murder.
The first one ripped through Manny Lazar's back. The next four tore open his chest and arms. He died Feb. 6, 1970, in the toy store he had owned and operated with his wife Belle for more than two dozen years. "In all the research I did for this book, the worst experience I had was reading those 3,000 pages of Microfiche. Going over all that forensic evidence again. It was awful," said Amster, author of the self-published "Pied Piper of South Shore." The book -- part memoir, part Chicago history book and part true-crime thriller -- chronicles the world of Chicago's South Shore neighborhood through the prism of the Lazar family's years there from the 1940s until 1970. Until Manny Lazar's death, the family was a classic version of the American Dream. Having fled Russia as an 8-year-old with his parents, Manny Lazar grew up to establish Wee Folks. The toy store on Chicago's 79th Street stood for decades as a gathering place and neighborhood hub. From the mid-1940s, when the store opened, until Lazar's death in 1970, adults came to Wee Folks not only to buy toys, but to seek what Amster recalls as "the confessional of the counter." "You got advice for your life over the counter. My parents were more than just merchants to their customers: they were friends," Amster said. "Everybody went to Wee Folks. It was the law," added Mitchell Markovitz, who grew up in South Shore and whose illustrations of the neighborhood punctuate Amster's book. "The Lazars were like associate parents to all the kids in the neighborhood." Film and Tony Award-winning Broadway star Mandy Patinkin ("Sunday in the Park with George," "Yentl") found inspiration and an oasis in Wee Folks and the Lazars. "We will forever have memories of a safe and friendly oasis -- from home, from school, from anything and everything in the world that a kid had trouble handling," Patinkin wrote in a foreword to the book. "(Mr. and Mrs. Lazar) were a symbol of everything good that a kid wants to see in an adult relationship. They danced through that store with the greatest of ease and they danced through our lives. They made you believe that one day you could find a dancing partner," he wrote. The camaraderie between merchants was indicative the closeness of the community, said Highland Park's Bob Levi , who lived at 73rd and Jeffrey from 1947 until he graduated from college in 1958. "As a kid, I worked at one of the Wee Folks competitors, Tiny Tots over on 71st Street. It was a friendly competition. If Wee Folks was out of an item, Tiny Tots would send it over, and vice versa," Levi said. "Caryn's book completely captures the flavor of the neighborhood," he added. But "Pied Piper of South Shore" is more than the story of the Lazars and the South Shore neighborhood. The book also details the rise and fall of a community, a place that went from being a thriving community to an area where poverty created a cycle of despair, violence and disenfranchisement. Amster recalls that "a perfect storm" of factors led to the deterioration of the neighborhood. Chief among those factors: Real estate agents who "pushed out" long-time white residents by fanning "panic selling" as blacks started moving into the neighborhood. Racial tensions grew, Amster writes, as Realtors told white homeowners the "colored people were coming," and bringing crime and lower property values with them. In 1963, Amster notes, her neighborhood was mostly white. Four years later, it was almost all black. "We weren't a group of Caucasians itching to be racists," Amster writes of the white flight that marked her community in the 1960s. "Most whites in South Shore didn't hate black people... But our beautiful, ethnically diverse neighborhood lay wounded at the hands of greedy Realtors. We were gullible and they were relentless. We were cowards and they grew rich." Compounding the problems was the birth of gangs. Amster's research meticulously details the rise of the murderous Blackstone Rangers and their rivals, the Black Disciples, and the incursion of violence into the neighborhood. Posing as a civic group in the 1960s, the Blackstone Rangers (later known as the El Rukns) received more than $1 million in funds from the War on Poverty programs. Amster's father was killed by Thomas Gunn, a Blackstone Ranger trying to come up with money to bail gang leader Jeff Fort out of jail. Gunn went to Wee Folks with the intention of robbing it. He is currently serving a sentence of 100 to 200 years in prison. "I said to somebody recently," Amster recalled, "'Tell me what year it is. The gangs are recruiting 10-year-old children in front of their homes. There are drive-by shootings. There is blood running in the playgrounds. Tell me what year it is.' They answered me, 'It's 2004.' I said 'No, it's 1964.' Nothing has changed." Caryn Amster will host a book signing of "Pied Piper of South Shore" from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday at Victoria's Book Store, 13 West Campbell St., Arlington Hts. This will also be a United States Marine Corps Toys For Tots event. Bring a new, unwrapped toy for underprivileged children. Amster will also sign and sell copies of her book from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 20, at a Holiday Open House/Women's Networking Event at the home of Rica Cuff, 1665 Brittany Lane, Hoffman Estates. Space is limited. To RSVP, call Cuff at ( 847) 776-1209 before Nov. 13.
To order a copy of "Pied Piper of South Shore," and for more information about book-signing events, log on to www.chicagospiedpiper.com
Antique Toy World Magazine - October 2004
NEW BOOK TELLS CHICAGO’S OWN TOY STORY
Caryn Lazar Amster’s new book, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago, retells her family’s experiences in starting and running Wee Folks, a successful toy business, in Chicago. It is also a true crime memoir of storeowner, Manny Lazar, known as the Pied Piper of South Shore, set in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood in the 50’s and 60’s. The story of the life and death of this beloved retailer is told in gritty detail by Amster, his elder daughter.
An appendix reveals how many of the most popular toys of the 50’s and 60’s got their start. While millions of toys were sold at Wee Folks over 25 years, many of the most popular had interesting stories about how they were created. Amster discusses such favorites as Crayolas, View Masters, Cootie and Yahtzee with stops at Hot Wheels and Yo Yos.
The story goes from Russian persecution to American freedom, from Hula Hoops to hit men, from murder to trial. It's the story of two children of immigrants, their American dream, and their richly diverse neighborhood in which each fell prey to the brutality of gangs. It is the story of loss and survival, even forgiveness.
A foreword by Mandy Patinkin, a long time customer, thanks Mr. and Mrs. Lazar for providing a place to dream. Wee Folks customer, Mitch Markovitz, created the book cover, posters and fine art versions of the cover, and interior illustrations. A portion of the book proceeds will be donated to Women’s American ORT.
Amster recalls how her parent’s got their start.
“One May morning in 1944, after my Dad had been working at Pullman Couch’s Chicago plant for eighteen months, Dad looked across the breakfast table at my Mom and said, ‘Kid’—he always called her Kid or Kitten—‘how would you like to go into business for ourselves? This is the perfect time.’ My mother thought he was crazy.”
“What would they sell? How would they get merchandise? Without retail experience why would anyone bank on a couple with no money and a dream?”
“Mom named the store Wee Folks, after stories of the ‘little people’ told to her by a little old Irish grandmother when she lived in Joliet. They studied books on retailing and toy catalogs, borrowed from friends and family, selected a location and opened a small store on 79th Street in Chicago’s South Shore in 1945.”
In the beginning, the neighborhood was a melting pot of merchants and Irish Catholic and Jewish residents. In debt with $20 in the till on opening day, they built their fledgling business into a retailing archetype. Within two years, the store’s success allowed Manny to quit his day job and devote himself full-time to his dream.
At first they sold anything they could buy on time from Jobbers. Many of the big manufacturers wouldn’t sell to them. In later years, biggies like Wham-O and Mattel would be at their doorstep. All along the way, the luck of the Irish grandmother stayed with them.
Their personalized retailing style drew Chicago customers by the hundreds, including now world famous personalities Mandy Patinkin, Muhammad Ali and Corky Siegal. A bustling birthday club, innovative promotions, and attentive customer service turned the store into a legend among retailers and clients alike. “Mr. and Mrs. Wee Folks” made children’s dreams come true. In return, customers helped them survive two Christmastime disasters.
In 1957 to the excitement of hundreds of children, the couple opened a new and larger Wee Folks on 79th Street. The business became a retailing phenomenon as Chicago’s first self-service toy store. With the 1959 debut of Barbie, Wee Folks became Chicago’s Official Barbie Headquarters. The American dream continued as Manny and Belle at last moved into their own South Shore home.
Gangs and The Nation of Islam both grew in the neighborhood and changed the nature of the area. The book opens with Manny being murdered in Wee Folks’ Barbie aisle.
In the epilogue, readers are updated on several characters, including the killer, Belle, and others.
Amster says, “Writing this book, I discovered how our store benefited from good economic times in the ‘40s and ‘50s and was at the center as sociological change came to the inner city in the ‘60s. I started writing this book about our toy store to tell my parents’ story, but I found it was also a way for hundreds of customers to say, ‘Thank You, Mr. and Mrs. Wee Folks’”.
Caryn Amster, a Chicago marketing specialist, grew up working side by side with her parents in their Wee Folks toy store. The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago is her first book.
The book, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago can be purchased at www.chicagospiedpiper.com. Visitors to the website’s Calendar of Events will learn the dates and times where personal book signings will be held.
Specialty Toys & Gifts October 2004
Daily Herald - October 8, 2004 - Joanmarie Wermes Column
Isn't it every child's dream to grow up in a toy store with endless playthings, walls lined with books, shelves filled with dolls and toy soldiers, exciting games piled high on counters, displays of Duncan yo-yos and the latest Hot Wheels, a menagerie of stuffed animals - enough to fill a zoo - and of course, G.I.Joe and Silly Putty?
Caryn Amster lived that childhood dream in the toy store named Wee Folks, and later her own son and daughter enjoyed its fruits until real-life horror intruded upon its serenity. Amster's beloved father, Manny Lazar, was murdered in that South Shore toy store.
In business for 25 years, Lazar was held up in Wee Folks, the 79th Street store he owned with Amster's mother, Belle, and shot five times by a hoodlum with membership in the infamous Blackstone Rangers.
While the robbery was in progress, Amster - who serves on the board of directors of the Hoffman Estates Chamber of Commerce and is CEO of CMA
Marketing Group Inc. - was at work nearby. Her young children would soon go to Wee Folks to be cared for by their grandparents until she could pick them up.
Then, Amster received the call from her mother that changed her life. Her father, known as the Pied Piper of the South Shore, had been murdered.
"I looked at my watch and realized in horror that in just one hour, my children would have been in the store after school," Amster said. "I could not believe my mother's presence of mind. Her first concern in a moment of fear and confusion was the safety of her grandchildren."
In her recently published book "Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago," the author details how after 25 years of success "the store's run came to an end in a hail of bullets" in 1970. Many twists and turns occurred before Amster finished her story about the rise and demise of the South Shore neighborhood.
"Our richly diverse neighborhood fell prey to the brutality of gangs," declared Amster. "In researching the trial testimony, I learned that the gunman and other gang members were ordered to get bail money any way they could for Blackstone Rangers leader Jeff Fort, who was in jail on local and federal charges."
While writing what began as an attempt to tell her parents' story and the story of her ancestral family leaving Russia to live the American dream, Amster collided with coincidences.
"Dozens of coincidences solidified my determination to tell my parents' story," the author said. "Whenever I was unsure, the answers came. Never a proponent of divine intervention, I became a believer. In Yiddish, we say 'bashert,' meaning it was fated or predestined. The whole writing experience has been bashert for me."
Amster said her aim is to take the reader from her family's "Russian Jewish persecution to their American freedom, from Hula-Hoops to hitmen, from murder to trial."
Before Belle Lazar died, she forgave the murderer Amster declines to name - so as to not give credence to the dastardly deed - but during a newspaper reporter's interview, Lazar once said, "I felt sorry for that kid. If he were raised in a good family, he would have turned around. I could never hate that young man. He was a terribly troubled youngster, and no one showed him care. If he grew up around me, he'd never have done such a terrible thing."
History buffs who delve into the book will glimpse Chicago's South Side from the '50s to the '70s; peruse lists of the restaurants, schools, theaters, businesses, places of worship and civic organizations in South Shore; and become familiar with interesting facts about toys and their origins. Visit Amster's Web site at www.cmapublishing.net.
Amster will sign books from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Schaumburg Township District Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, and at 7 p.m. Oct. 25 at the Elk Grove Village Public Library, 1001 Wellington Ave.
From The Reporter Magazine - Women's American ORT -
"Caryn Amster joins the ranks of true crime writers with her book, The Pied Piper of South Shore, about a brutal murder in a Chicago neighborhood in 1970. The owner of a toy store was killed in his shop, amidst dolls and board games, with his wife nearby. The book stands out for the author's proximity to the crime: The victim was her father.
Amster, a Chicago-based marketing specialist, opens the book with the murder and covers the case through the trial, braiding into the narrative her memories of the store, her neighborhood and her parent’s experience as children of immigrants. It is a book about family and business, loss and survival, and also about forgiveness.”
By Sandee Brawarsky, Journalist and Author - For The Reporter Magazine, Women’s American ORT, Fall 2004
Adding up 'what ifs' - Joliet Herald News - September 16, 2004
Books can provide one with countless "what ifs" in life. One such autobiography by Jolietan Mel Larson, "The Quest — The Destiny," starts with a journey back to 1914 giving the reader a remembrance of a much different way of growing up. The book is also a tribute to a special person. And I ask "what if" the special person had not taken an interest and entered his life? Would Mel have been a teacher at Joliet Junior College for 25 years?
Another such book by Caryn Lazar Amster, the "Pied Piper of South Shore," takes me back to my school days at the Rockdale Public School. Caryn's mother, Belle Hyman, gave me my first piano lessons. She also entered my life which lead me to a most enjoyable career teaching piano to all ages. And I've often wondered "what if" Belle had not entered my life? Denise M. Baran-Unland wrote an excellent review of the "Pied Piper of South Shore" in the Aug. 29 edition of The Herald News. Another wonderment that I have is "what if" The Herald News didn't offer the space to writers and readers? Writing to a local paper can leave a lasting impression. What is needed are articles offering solutions to the same old problems at all levels of government — instead of a whining attitude. Amster's true experiences provide a background for what is happening today. Her in-depth style of writing covers an important time period in our history. Amster will discuss her book and marketing at a free seminar at 1:30 p.m. Sunday at the Joliet (downtown) Public Library. Hope to see you Sunday.
Both books are excellent educational/historical tools written in an interesting format. They are priceless legacies for future generations.
Author signing book in Joliet where chapters are set
By Denise M. Baran-Unland
SPECIAL TO THE HERALD NEWS (Joliet Herald 8/29/04)
Caryn Amster of Elk Grove Village has published her own book about her parents lives, which features chapters set in Joliet.
Down the street from where Amster's mother, Belle, lived in Joliet was a little Irish family by the name of Dolan. Belle grew up enthralled by Granny Dolan's stories of the wee folk, leprechauns, about how they lived and interacted with people.
Right before Granny Dolan died, she called for Celia, Belle's mother, and blessed her.
"My mother was certain that she (Granny Dolan) had a blessing that she passed on from her mother to my mother," Amster, a Chicago marketing specialist, said. "When my parents decided to go into business, she (Belle) thought of little Granny Dolan."
In 1945, from an idea born at their breakfast table and initially operating on a shoestring, Amster's parents Manny and Belle Lazar opened their toy store, Wee Folks, on 79th Street in Chicago.
Their warm, friendly interaction with their customers soon earned them the nicknames "Mr. and Mrs. Wee Folks." Customers often sought childcare advice from Belle, who had been a teacher.
But the toyland oasis came to a grinding halt in 1970 when Manny was shot and killed by a gang hit man.
In Amster's book, "The Pied Piper of South Shore: Toys and Tragedy in Chicago," Amster immortalizes her parents legacy, a legacy that even tragedy could not completely erase, she discovered, while talking to the many people who remember and were touched by Wee Folks.
"Granny Dolan's blessing is still doing its job," Amster said.
Amster's book also contains two appendixes. One recalls the stores of 79th street, from Stony Island to Jeffrey Avenue, and the other contains the history of many popular toys of the 1950s and 1960s.
Her own favorite toy was an Etch-o-Sketch because she could express her creativity without needing crayons or markers.
"I wasn't a doll person. I was a gun and holster person," Amster said with a chuckle. "As I got older, I discovered the boys were under the cars, so I took up cars."
A portion of the book's proceeds will be donated to Women's American ORT in memory of Belle, who belonged to that Jewish fund-raising organization.
Amster will be autographing copies of her book, discussing its Joliet connection and offering some tips on book marketing from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m., Sept. 19, at the Joliet Public Library, 150 N. Ottawa St.
Mitch Markovitz, painter of the book cover, will also be on hand to autograph and sell posters of the book's cover, as well as his Joliet area posters. For more information, contact the library at (815) 740-2660.
Amster will then sign copies of her book from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 23, at the Joliet Book Fair at the Joliet Public Library branch at 3395 Black Rd., Joliet. For more information e-mail email@example.com.
She's very excited to be promoting her book in Joliet since Belle held the city in high esteem.
"Throughout my mother's life, and she lived to be 87, every time the clock struck 5:11, her heart would skip a beat because when she came to Joliet with her widowed mother and sister, she lived at 511 Joliet St."
Amster's grandmother, Celia, who grew up in Russia, had a brother who distributed literature against the Czar and was caught. He was given one day to get his affairs in order before being shipped off to Siberia.
So Celia, only 17 years old, came forward, stating that the literature was really hers. Because she was a girl, she was given one month to get her affairs in order. An Orthodox priest smuggled this young Jewish girl out of the country.
She met and married Amster's grandfather, Max Rosen, in New York. After his death, this non-English speaking woman and her two children, Belle, 6, and Fanny, 4, came to Joliet in 1917, to Joliet to stay with a cousin, Rose Atkin married, with five children, to a rabbi.
Belle attended Eliza Kelly Grade School and Joliet Junior College, taught lessons at the Joliet Jewish Congregation and eventually became a piano teacher. One of her students was Dorothy Mavrich of Joliet.
"My mom said Dorothy Mavrich was a prodigy and she was Mom's friend her whole life," said Amster. "My mom said Dorothy could play piano concertos from memory.
"That was during the Depression when nobody had any money. But my mom gave Dorothy Mavrich lessons for 25 cents a lesson and when her parents couldn't afford it anymore, my mom gave her the lessons for free.
"Dorothy would come over and make dinner for her family for bake something in appreciation."
Belle met Manny in 1936 when he was visiting the Lewis family. At that time the 24-year-old Belle was single, teaching school and caring for her widowed stepfather, David Hyman, and younger brother.
After he met Belle, Manny's visits became more frequent. He brought her flowers from the Sterling Florist. They strolled through Bush Park, perhaps stopping at the Sweet Shop on Jefferson Street for a soda. They went canoeing at the Joliet Beach Club.
They were married Christmas Day that same year. Eventually, the family moved to Chicago where they began Wee Folks.
What inspired you: "It started out as way to honor my parents, their store and their life experience: their coming to America, finding the American dream, living the American dream and having this wonderful store that changed people's lives."
Goal: "I think it's good reminiscing for people about the '50s and the '60s, not only for those from the South Shore, but really anywhere."
Words of Wisdom: "You need to carve a whole day for writing. Once you do that, there will be a second day and a third. The story will propel you and move you along. If you're writing only for the money, you're on the wrong trail. It's important to get your story in print and if you're happy with it, that's that important thing."
How to get it: Beginning in September, order the book from any major bookseller or visit Amster's Web site at www.chicagospiedpiper.com
From Women's American ORT June/July 2004 Newsletter
Portion of Chicago memoir proceeds to benefit WAO
Caryn Lazar Amster has penned a book about her parents’ toy store in Chicago in the 1950s and ‘60s. The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago is a true crime memoir. It is described as a heady ride from Russian persecution to freedom in America, from Hula Hoops to hit men, from murder to trial.
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to WAO in memory of Ms. Amster’s mother, Belle Lazar, who in her later years was President of the Rancho Bernardo Chapter. The book includes a mention of WAO’s work.
For information and to purchase a book and South Shore poster, call 847-895-6449 or visit www.chicagospiedpiper.com.
Reviews From the Reading Public
The whole is truly greater than its enormous parts. This very personal, heart wrenching, heart warming book filled with fascinating history ultimately underscores the importance of respect and forgiveness. Ms. Amster's thorough research into varied areas - from her family origins to gang origins, from the history of toys to the history of the South Shore - amazes me. Caryn Lazar Amster, thank you. Your writing grabbed me and would not let me go. Your parents touched countless lives in such a positive way, by virtue of this book the number grows.
Judith Learned "avid reader" - Palatine, IL
This book is a must-read. Not only is it the never-before-told story of a murder that changed a community, it is also a chilling account of how the Nation of Islam was formed in Chicago. Beginning on the day of the murder, the author, the daughter of the victim, reveals for the first time the horror of that day. She introduces readers to the victim, Manny Lazar, a beloved toy store owner nicknamed "The Pied Piper of South Shore." Verbatim excerpts from the trial offer real-life courtroom drama. The author's extensive research offers compelling and provocative insight into a murder trial where justice is the ultimate winner. Juxtaposed with the intensity of the crime is the reader's journey back in time to look at Mr. Lazar's merchandising techniques, his creative and fun-filled events at the toystore and his innovative retail strategies. The author also gives readers two bonuses: a catalogue of toys with anecdotal references to delight Baby-boomers, their children, and their parents, and a nostalgic trip, all mapped out, to the diverse neighborhood of Chicago's South Shore. The book's foreward is a loving tribute by actor-singer Mandy Patinkin (Princess Bride, Yentl, Chicago Hope, Broadway) who admired the toystore owner and his wife when Mr. Patinkin was a child and customer. I predict this story will be a major motion picture one day. (I hope Mandy Patinkin stars as the toystore owner, an extraordinary man.)
Carol Campbell "Author, Views from a Pier"
(Long Grove, IL, USA)
Having grown up in the Chicago South Shore neighborhood during the late 1940s and 1950s, I thought that book would be a great nostalgia trip. It was much more than that! The author wrote a true crime book in addition to a well-documented chapter on the changing urban landscape during 1960s. The book also covers small retail businesses and the wonderful toys available during that time period.
My South Shore High School class (Jan. '54) just had its 50th reunion and I've recommended the book to my classmates. But I feel that there is a wider audience in urban history buffs, true crime fans and anyone whose father had a local retail business.
Caryn Lazar Amster captures the joys of growing up in a urban environment and the sadness of losing a loved one to a senseless crime. I highly recommend the book.
Bob Levi (Highland Park, IL United States)
Carol Pietrus, an avid non-fiction reader, October 12, 2004,
If you LOVE Chicago's South Shore .... If you've LIVED thru the 50's and the 60's ... Or if you just LIKE toys, the retail business with a good story ... Read this book! I laughed and I cried as I read the history of Wee Folk's customers personal experiences, a murder trial and the history of my favorite toys, all artfully written by the daughter of Wee Folk's store owners. This would make a great gift for someone who was familiar with Chicago's South Shore neighborhoods.
Mary Zentz, a Realtor & former ToysrUs director, October 8, 2004,
Something for everyone---above all, the story of a family, of retailing, marketing and of the toy industry. Also a horrific murder story and a history of a Chicago area and what gang violence does to a community. Provides balance to our nostalgia for the 60s and 70s. The appendix includes a history of topselling toys from the past and a history
Contact: Caryn Lazar Amster, President, CMA Publishing,
and author at 847-895-6449 or
email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Special chapter summary available: www.chicagospiedpiper.com/media.html
CMA Publishing: Chicago Author Toys With Literary Success!
Medinah, Illinois - A gritty new true Chicago history book hits the streets today. Growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60s in Wee Folks, her parent’s toy business on Chicago ’s South Side, Caryn Amster never dreamed her father would be killed there. In 1970, after 25 years in business, the highly successful store’s run came to an end in a hail of bullets.
Her new book, The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in Chicago, now available, begins in 1970, when a gang assassin gunned down her father affectionately known as the Pied Piper of South Shore. He was killed in the Barbie aisle. The book describes the life of her parents, Belle and Manny Lazar, and the store. In gritty detail Amster takes readers from her parent’s Russian Jewish persecution to their American freedom, from Hula Hoops to hit men, from murder to trial. It's the story of two children of immigrants, their American dream, and their richly diverse neighborhood in which each fell prey to the brutality of gangs.
A foreword by Emmy and Tony award-winning actor and singer Mandy Patinkin, a long time customer, thanks Mr. and Mrs. Lazar for providing a place to dream.Two appendices reveal how the most popular toys of the 50’s and 60’s got their start and recall the stores along 79 th Street in South Shore .
Knox, Indiana fine artist, illustrator, former South Shore resident and South Shore Line engineer, Mitch Markovitz, created the book cover and accompanying posters and prints. A portion of book
proceeds will be donated to Women’s American ORT (Organization for Educational Resources and Technical Training).
“Writing this book, I discovered how our store benefited from good economic times in the ‘40s and ‘50s and was at the center as sociological change came to the inner city in the ‘60s. I started writing this book about our toy store to tell my parents’ story, but Ifound it was also a way for hundreds of customers to say, ‘Thank You, Mr. and Mrs. Wee Folks’”, says Amster. Information on The Pied Piper of South Shore, Toys and Tragedy in
Chicago is available at www.chicagospiedpiper.com.