Review (Plus): The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Bookshelf Blurb: Do you like Pippi Longstalking? This book is like having FIVE of her all fighting to save their beloved Harlem brownstone, but their heartwarming attempts are interpreted as naughty antics by the grouchy old landlord who wants them out worse than before they started to charm him!
America’s Review: The Vanderbeeker kids are adored by the entire block and surrounding area of their quant Harlem neighborhood on 141st Street; however, their landlord, the Beiderman (or Mr. Beiderman as Mom keeps correcting throughout the story) has told the family he is not renewing their lease. The five kids—varying in age from 12 to 4 ¾—are Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney. These five children create ‘Operation Beiderman’ to save their home; but with only five days left until Christmas, they must be on their ‘A’ game to make it a success.
Karina Yan Glaser has introduced us to a fantastic family full of energy, passion and love. She has created characters with bold strength and internal issues true to their ages. The twin girls are 12 and Glaser has nailed the pre-teen angst of boys, dances and family loyalty. Doors slamming at angered and annoyed siblings is the perfect example of this age. Oliver, our only boy, is a nine-year-old who abounds with energy and ways to annoy his sisters who won’t leave him alone to just sit and quietly read his books. Our two younger siblings are Hyacinth, a typical middle sibling wanting peace and crafting everyone handmade gifts to show her love and devotion, and little Laney, the innocent, sweet baby of the family who longs to be old like her siblings, but still wants all the attention for herself.
Each chapter is a new day—one closer to losing their beloved brownstone. The kids, unbeknownst to their parents and the older ‘grandparent-like’ couple living above them, start leaving things on the doorstep for the Beiderman to find. One of the kids even decides to give him a kitten! With each new day comes a new gift and a new disaster. This poor old man wants to be left alone and these kids, in their good-hearted nature, keep giving him unwanted presents. When the kids deliver him a homemade breakfast and he opens the door, the sight of him scares them so much they drop the tray, shattering all the dishes and finding the food going splat! I was laughing at their loving attempts that were going SO wrong. These poor kids just want to save their home and every attempt becomes a disaster. It is too funny not to laugh and wonder what they can possibly do next.
It is Christmas Eve when the Beiderman finally has had enough and starts banging on the floors of the apartment. I’m sure he is wondering when will these children EVER leave him alone? The ultimate question I cannot answer is will they save their house? This is a fast paced book due to the many antics, petitions and times spent with the family, including the grandparent types upstairs–who I want as my neighbors! Good fun abounds in this book.
In the Classroom:
This is a 4th/5th grade read and I wouldn’t put it in the hands of anyone past this age level. It offers character traits which they can identify. The one thing I loved about this book was the drawings of the brownstone. There were only a few drawings throughout the book, but it offered the visual needed to complete the complexities of a brownstone in New York. This is a type of lifestyle not identifiable for everyone. That being said, I still recommend that you read this story out loud—perfect read between Thanksgiving and Christmas as it is short and could be finished in this time frame—and have your students draw a map of their street or neighborhood. This story would allow you to teach about compass rose and directions. You could also incorporate math with how many blocks and fastest routes to get from point A to point B. It amazes me how little students know how to get to their house as they are watching an electronic device in the car not paying attention to their surroundings. Encourage your students look out the window and see what is in their neighborhood.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser (HMH Books for Young Readers | 9780544876392 | October 3, 2017)