(B) Ages 4-8, (C) Ages 8-10, (D) Ages 10-12, (E) Ages 12-15, Book Reviews, Family Read Alouds, Realistic Fiction, Starred Reviews
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*The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers, a loving family with normal unloving moments, face a Christmas-eve challenge with humor and heart.

*The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser.  HMH, 2017, 209 pages

Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-14 (independent readers), 6-up (family read aloud)

The Venderbeekers live in a century-old brownstone smack in the heart of Harlem.  Besides Papa and Mama (who are called Papa and Mama), there are the 12-year-old twins Jessie and Isa, 9-year-old Oliver, 6-year-old Hyacinth, and 4 (and ¾) year-old Laney, along with an assortment of furry four-footed family members.  As their story opens Papa announces he has good news and bad news.  First the good: “You kids all know how much we love you, right?”  This leads the older ones to immediately suspect their folks are getting a divorce.  But (thankfully) no—the bad news is that their landlord Mr. Beiderman, who also lives on the top floor, is not renewing their lease.  Here it is, only five days to Christmas, and their most significant present is thirty day’s notice.  Not just to move out of the brownstone, but most likely to say good-bye to the neighborhood, where Papa has lived since he was a boy.

This cannot stand.  The kids have to find a way to suck up to the reclusive, misanthropic Mr. Beiderman so he’ll change his mind.  Hence a series of schemes which even a gregarious anthropope could see are bad ideas.  Hijinks ensue, with predictable results.  Christmas is looking grim until a kind of miracle occurs . . .

Any devotee of children’s literature will recognize the genre right away.  We might call it the “loveable clan” tale, such as the Bastables and the Penderwicks and the All-of-a-kinds.  In spite of our culture’s urge to tamper with it, and our own tendencies to spoil it, there’s something enduring about the family structure God created: diverse individuals growing up together in one house with organic, emotional, and spiritual bonds.  They are not only teasing, irritating and (sometimes) fighting with each other, they’re also learning together.  Some lessons are best learned in close, involuntary proximity—lessons such as real tolerance, patience, and (most of all) loving each other and your neighbor.  The ending may wrap up a little too neatly, but the Vanderbeekers face real problems and conflicts with real tenacity, and plenty of laughs along the way.  We look forward to further adventures on 141st St.

Cautions: None

Overall rating: 4.75 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4.75
  • Artistic value: 4.75

Update: Speaking of further adventures, don’t miss The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden and The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue.

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6 Comments

  1. Clara says

    Thank you for this review. My daughter wants to read this book, and your review let’s me know it is a good book she will enjoy!

  2. Heather says

    No cautions?!?! I ordered this book because of your review. We are only 2 chapters in and there is a lot of language and sarcasm. Not what the world considers bad words, but what our family doesn’t use – things like “freaking” etc. and talk about painting “disgusting bathroom words” on the neighbors door. Thankfully it is a read aloud, but I am having to change a lot on the fly. I would think you would at least give a caution to that.

    • Heather, thank you for your comment and for raising your concerns. We always encourage our readers to read discerningly because each family has particular sensitivities. We do not generally caution for slang words unless they are excessive. Oliver (the character who wants to scrawl “disgusting bathroom words” on the door) grows tremendously in the book, and I think you would appreciate his maturing. The reader sees that the children need redemption and growth as much as Mr. Biederman.

      • Heather says

        Thank you for your reply. We are going to continue on as a read aloud, so I am happy to hear there is a lot of maturing!

  3. Amy Griggs says

    Does anyone have any discussion questions to go with this book? I’m using it for a book club and I can’t seem to find any anywhere.

    • You know, we used this for our Love Your Neighbor book club for this past December, but instead of overt discussion, we used it as a springboard for serving our actual neighbors (we made cookies and took them to neighbors). I think it wouldn’t be difficult, though, to come up with some general questions along the lines of the other Love Your Neighbor books: Who are the actual, physical neighbors on our street, in our apartment buildings, who might be challenging to love? Are there neighbors who seem to actively dislike us? How can we, as Christians, serve those “enemies” and neighbors?

      More specific book questions might revolve around the growth/maturity of characters like Oliver: how does he change from wanting to write “bathroom words” on the Biederman’s door to actively serving him? How does the structure of the 4 days leading up to Christmas help serve the narrative of the story? Would it have been more effective if it had taken place over a longer period of time? Is the brownstone a magical house, somehow alive? What are the evidences in the book that make it seem so? (and so forth). Hope that helps jumpstart some creative thinking! Let us know what else you come up with.

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