The Kids are All Right- The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

I fall hard for stories about scrappy siblings.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in a house with such fantastic brothers. Maybe siblings just make for good stories. All I know is, from The Saturdays to The Five Children and It, to The Boxcar Children to All-of-a-Kind Family, I have always loved books where houses are overstuffed, a jumble of kids are tumbling along the walls, and siblings in a jam help each other out/save the day/solve the mystery. . .you get the idea.  There is something so delightfully cozy and real about stepping into that kind of book, and this one is no exception.

The Vanderbeekers are a biracial family living in a brownstone in Harlem, on 141st Street (no spoilers there- it’s literally the title).  Mom is a pastry chef.  Dad owns a computer repair shop but is also the building super, and there are five kids-

  • Jessie, 12 years old, with wild hair and a love of science
  • Isa, her twin, sleek, poised, and a budding violinist
  • Oliver, 10 years old, loves reading, basketball, and adventure
  • Hyacinth, 6 years old, arts and crafty, with beloved collections of ribbons and buttons
  • Laney, 4 years old, bubbly and imaginative and enthusiastic about everything- because she’s four.

Also, so many pets!  A dog (Franz!), and cat (George Washington!) and a bunny (Paganini!)  Beloved eldery neighbors live on the second floor that are practically family.  There are books stacked everywhere and the bunny hops about and the radiator whistles and the pipes moan and pastry cream drips onto the floor to the hopeful dog, and by the second chapter, I was in love with all of them.  

In the first four pages of the book, we discover that it is five days until Christmas and the Vanderbeeker’s landlord, an elusive recluse named Mr. Beiderman who lives on the third floor, has informed the family he is not renewing their lease.  This comes as a surprise- they have been excellent tenants- and they are devastated.  The kids decide they are going to convince “the Beiderman” to let them stay.

While the book has a happy ending, it does not arrive there predictably.  Each Vanderbeeker kid uses his or her own unique strengths to win over Beiderman, but of course they need to work together to win him over for good.  In the midst of trying to save their home, we see the spark of a middle school crush, the pain that miscommunication can cause, and learn that people are not all bad or all good, but often a mix of both, based on circumstance.

The descriptive atmosphere in this book is not to be missed- I feel like I lived in the house and would recognize any of these kids if I passed them in the street.  The neighborhood itself shines as a character in the book as well, from the local bakery to the Harlem campus of City College.  It’s a New York City book.  It’s a Christmas book.  It’s a read-aloud to siblings book.  It’s a perfect book for right now.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

  • Written by Karina Yan Glaser
  • Illustrated maps by Jennifer Thermes
  • Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2017
  • 293 pages, recommended age 8-12

The best part?  There are three MORE Vanderbeeker books!  If you liked this one, check out more adventures in The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue, and The Vanderbeekers Lost and Found.

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