Published: 3 October 2017
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Category: Middle Grade/Fiction
The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It’s practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home.
Rating: 5 Stars
Books about families working together are a lot of fun to read because while they are usually working toward a common goal, there’s still a lot of room for personalities to shine through and many adventures (or misadventures sometimes!). Think the Pevensies, the kids from the Spiderwick Chronicles, etc. They go through a lot and we get to experience these things with them.
New this year are the adventures of the Vanderbeeker children, trying to save their home when the landlord won’t renew the lease. All twelve and under, each of the five children brings something unique to the effort along with ideas about how to endear themselves to Mr. Bierderman the landlord.
While one might think that the book will solely be about the Vanderbeekers and their effort to stay in Harlem, there are layers to the story: Jessie and Isa, the twelve year old twins, and what it means to be growing up and with different interests; Mr. Beiderman and why he’s a shut-in that won’t renew their lease; Oliver being the middle child and only boy. It all unfolded wonderfully, sadly, emotionally.
The side characters were as well developed as the Vanderbeeker children. Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet upstairs, Benny Castleman and his family at the bakery, Oliver’s friend next door, and a few others. Even the parents weren’t background one dimensional people like I’ve seen in some middle grade adventures. It was pleasant to be as interested in these characters as I was the individual children, learning about their interests, their interactions with the kids.
Reading this was a funny adventure because you never knew what each kid was going to come up with next. It was also very tense because, while it is a middle grade book and I usually expect happy endings, I wasn’t wholly sure that the Vanderbeekers would be able to pull the plan off or not. Do you think they will? Nail biting, I tell you!
Finding out the reasons behind things, like the motivations of Mr. Biederman and of Jessie regarding a new turning point in her and Isa’s lives, was both expected (Jessie/Isa) and saddening (Mr. Biederman). My heart was breaking near the end when things were looking particularly bleak.
Alongside the story of saving their home, the Vanderbeekers have drawings and letters included that bring their situation, whether it be Jessie’s Rube Goldberg machine or Oliver’s challenging their neighbor/landlord to a duel. These simple line drawings are fun and informative. Sometimes I have trouble picturing layouts in regard to buildings and whatnot, so seeing the Vanderbeekers brownstone sketched out was a blessing.
I would recommend this book to anyone who’s ever enjoyed the adventures of particularly determined children and seeing how they surmount their odds.
Now, please enjoy an interview with the author, in which I ask about the story behind the Vanderbeekers and about herself.
Interview with Karina Yan Glaser
The Hermit Librarian: What was it that made you want to set The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street in Harlem?
Karina Yan Glaser: I have lived in Harlem for the past eight years and am raising my two kids here. It’s a beautiful neighborhood and community, and I loved the idea of writing about a place I’m so familiar with and have such a strong connection to.
THL: The Vanderbeeker children are amazing in their individuality and their coming together to save their home. Is there a fictional family that influenced them or that you found important to your reading growing up?
KYG: I loved stories of big families growing up, especially All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor and The Saturdays by Elizabeth Enright. Those books definitely influenced me as I wrote about the Vanderbeekers.
THL: The side characters were a delight as they seemed as fully fleshed out as the Vanderbeekers themselves. Do you find it easier or harder to craft them as opposed to main characters?
KYG: Thank you! I found them easier to craft, since they only slipped in for small portions of the book.
THL: Which Vanderbeeker do you think you have the most in common with?
THL: If you were to choose an adventure for the Vanderbeekers to go on, what sort do you think they’d enjoy the most?
KYG: I’d love to see them on a farm. How would those city kids react?
THL: Jessie and Isa are responsible for making the family meals on Tuesdays. Do you enjoy cooking, no matter what the rest of the family might think? What’s one dish you think is a must for holiday dinners, ala Christmas Eve dinner in the book?
KYG: I do enjoy cooking, although my kids are instructed to be polite at the dinner table regardless of whether they like the meal or not. I don’t really have a dish I always make for holidays; I like cooking all sorts of food. Lately I’ve been cooking a lot of Indian and Ethiopian dishes.
THL: Have you ever played an instrument, like Isa with her violin?
KYG: I played the piano for a couple of years when I was eight. It did not go well! My two daughters play the violin.
THL: Oliver reads a great many comics and books, including Treasure Island. What’s your #1 book to recommend to people in need of one?
KYG: I can’t give just one recommendation! I read a lot for my work at the book media website Book Riot, so lots of amazing books come across my desk every day. If you’re interested in seeing the books I recommend, sign up for “The Kids Are All Right” newsletter at Book Riot, or browse my posts here.
THL: Jessie loves scientific pursuits, especially Rube Goldberg machines which lead to the creation of one for her twin’s birthday. Do you have a favorite Rube Goldberg machine?
KYG: I like the book page turner one.
THL: Hyacinth thinks best when surrounded by comforting things. For her it’s buttons and ribbons. What makes a space more homey or comforting for you?
KYG: Books, tea, and fluffy blankets!
THL: Laney is ever the optimist and quite the love bug with her hugs. Is there something that you can think back on that gives you the optimism Laney has when times are tough?
KYG: My younger daughter definitely has a similar personality to Laney. She’s very optimistic and loves giving hugs. Somehow she makes the world a more hopeful place.
Thank you yo Karina Yan Glaser for answering my questions about herself and her debut novel, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. You can get your copy today from one of the retailers listed above or your local library (request it if unavailable/possible!). 😀
Now to the giveaway! Karina would like to send 5 readers swag packs based around The Vanderbeekers.
To enter, check out my Twitter at @hermitlibrarian for the Tweet to RT! Don’t forget to follow or the entry won’t count. Open INT!
I received a copy of this book from the author as part of the Debut Author Bash in exchange for an honest review.