Saturday, December 28, 2019

MMGM: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

After a very busy Christmas Eve, I decided to take it easy on Christmas day and just spend the afternoon reading a book. And The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street seemed the perfect book to spend the day with. It's a delightful New York story about a big biracial family and it begins five days before Christmas and ends on Christmas day.

The Vanderbeekers children, twins Jessie and Isa, 12, Oliver, 9 and the only boy, Hyacinth, 6, and Laney, 4 1/2, have occupied the basement and two floors of a Harlem brownstone most of their lives, along with Mama, Papa, Franz the dog, George Washington, a cat, and Paganini, a lop-eared bunny. Above them live Miss Josie and her husband Mr. Jeet, who recently suffered a stroke, and on the top floor lives Mr. Beiderman, their landlord. The Vanderbeeker children couldn't be happier living where they live. They know everyone in the neighborhood, and everyone knows them, with the exception of the reclusive Mr. Beiderman, whom they have never seen.

You can imagination the devastation the Vanderbeeker children must have felt when, five days before Christmas, they were told that Mr. Beiderman would not be renewing their lease and they would have to move by the end of the year. The children may be stunned, disappointed, angry, hurt, and perplexed, but it doesn't stop them from coming up with "Operation Beiderman," a plan to win the mysterious and mean landlord over in the hope of changing his mind. And Mr. Beiderman is an enigma to them. He hasn't left his apartment in the six years the Vanderbeekers have lived in his brownstone, he periodically has frozen meals delivered, and he keeps his windows covered with dark curtains. Papa is the only one who has seen Mr. Beiderman, since he does superintendent duties around the brownstone.

And Mr. Beiderman proves to be a hard nut to crack. Enticing him to change his mind with delicious chocolate croissants for the local bakery doesn't work, nor does the wonderful old Duke Ellington record they leave for him after learning that he likes jazz. Nor does Hyacinth's hand stitched holiday place mat, or the petition signed by everyone they know in the neighborhood. As the time until moving day gets closer and closer, will the Vanderbeeker children come up with a plan that will finally work? Or are they destined to leave behind everyone and everything they love about living in a brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem forever?

I have to admit I have a weakness for middle grade books about large, loving families like the Vanderbeekers (and of course, the Penderwicks). And I really enjoyed reading this book and I'm looking forward to reading more about the Vanderbeekers.

Some of the things I really liked about this book are:
I thought all the characters were believable and well drawn. Everyone had just the right amount of eccentricity, so that who they are feels authentic and not forced. The kids felt like real kids. They know their way around the neighborhood and they know things about their home that the adults have not idea about - how to get up to the Roof of Epic Proportions via fire escape for secret meetings, the secret floorboard in the twins bedroom, how to avoid squeaky stairs.

I loved that there were no screens - none of the Vanderbeekers kids have a cell phone, and because of the move, even their Internet is turned off. Which means - no easy answers about the mysterious Mr. Beiderman. Learning he has once been at City College, they had to walk to the college in the hope of finding information.

The main message the Vanderbeekers learned is to never never assume a person is who they appear to be. Jessie has to learn this about her twin sister Isa the hard way, and all of the kids have to learn it about Mr. Beiderman.

My favorite part, however, is this - if it takes a village to raise children, this book shows us that the village can easily be the neighborhood right outside our front doors. This is a lesson I learned when my Kiddo was growing up and so many friends and neighbors added so much to her life. And Karina Yan Glaser depicted it so perfectly, it was like a gift on Christmas day.

If you haven't read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, you might want to give it a read. If you have already read it, lucky you.

Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle. 

This book is recommended for readers 9+
This book was purchased for my personal library


  1. I read this one too! At first I had trouble keeping the large family in order in my mind, but before long I had the characters down. I haven't read any of the others in the series yet. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one too!

  2. I can't believe I haven't read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. Now I know more about the story and am intrigued. Excellent review! Have you tried Natalie Lloyd's "The Problim Children?" It's a quirky and fun big family. Check it out on Amazon. It's a sequel and the third book is due out in August 2020. Happy New Year.

  3. I love the sound of the messages portrayed in the this book. I've had it on my to be read list for much too long. I'm going to remedy that situation soon. Happy New Year! Looking forward to more of your reviews (along with the Cybils winners).

  4. I really enjoyed this book. I'm a sucker for a story with a grumpy old person who secretly has a heart of gold.

    You timed this one right with the Christmas setting!

  5. I love this series. The family is so fun and the stories are as well. Thanks for your thoughts on this one. Happy New Year.


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