Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141 St. by Karina Yan Glaser
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers ISBN 9780544876392
Hardcover, 304 pages, $16.99

The first thing that takes you in Karina Yan Glaser's first middle school novel, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, is the colorful cover illustration. Looking at the figures in the windows of the bright red townhouse makes you want to look inside the book to find out who these people are. You want to be inside this building.

Once inside, you will be enchanted by the interesting Vanderbeeker family. Mama likes to bake and share her treats with the neighbors. Papa maintains the building, owned by Mr. Beiderman who keeps to himself. The Vanderbeeker children are not your typical plugged-in kids- 12 year-old Isa loves to play the violin, her twin brother Jessie creates scientific experiments, 9 year-old Oliver writes poetry, 6 year-old Hyacinth is an animal lover and 4 year-old Laney loves to draw, and they all love to read books. There is nary a cell phone in sight; instead, there are lots of pets.

When Mr. Beiderman tells the family that they must move after Christmas, the family is devastated. This is the only home they have known. They love their neighborhood- the bakery owned by the family of a boy who has a crush on Isa, the deli, the coffee shop, the library and City College. What if they have to leave the neighborhood and move far away?

The kids get together and come up with a idea to make Mr. Beiderman change his mind and let them stay, but it doesn't go as planned.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is the kind of book you want to share with everyone in your family- it would make a wonderful book to read aloud. The Vanderbeekers are a lovely family, kind to each other, but in a realistic way. It's refreshing to see children who respect their parents, and who help Mom cook and set the table without (too much) complaint.

The secondary characters are interesting too- the upstairs neighbors who are so sad to be losing their friends, and as someone who had a basset hound, Franz the basset hound warmed my heart. Even Mr. Beiderman's story is moving.

The theme of the book can be best summed up by a speech Papa makes at a farewell Christmas dinner:
"I have always believed that raising kids means more than just being a good parent and trying to do the things," Papa went on, his voice beginning to wobble. "It means surrounding your kids with amazing people who can bring science experiments and jam cookies, laughter and joy, and beautiful experiences into their lives. From every part of my being, I want to thank you for giving me and my family the gifts of friendship and love."
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street brings this wonderfully vibrant New York City neighborhood alive, and I can't wait for the next book in the series. I love the Vanderbeekers and all their friends and family and neighbors! If you have children or grandchildren in your life, you'll want to read this to them. And if you know a teacher, this would be a great addition to their classroom library.

Karina Glaser's website is here.


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