The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser is a charming realistic fiction tale about the true meaning of home. When I first picked up this book, I had doubts about reading it; the cover art was only a bunch of tall buildings with a few tiny human silhouettes depicted in the windows. However, there’s so much more to those small shadows. The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” has never been truer.
The first book in a series of four and counting, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street follows the action-packed life of the boisterous Vanderbeeker family, consisting of five children aged four through twelve: Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney, and three pets: a dog, a cat, and a rabbit. Set in a loving brownstone in modern New York City, the life of the Vanderbeeker family never gets boring; something is always happening.
On a fateful afternoon just eleven days before Christmas, the children discover that their highly secretive landlord refusesto renew their lease. They quickly become determined to save their beloved home. They come up with plans, some ridiculous and some not, to win over their landlord who lives on the third story of their brownstone. The siblings make many failed attempts, and several only cause their landlord to be even angrier.
The blend of suspense and typical family life are perfect in this book. The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is peppered with details that make the overarching plot seem believable. I also enjoy how the book is told from different perspectives - although the story is written in third person, it reveals the thoughts and opinions of all five children.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street has amusing subplots, in this case separate goals that each child wants to achieve besides rescuing their home. They range from Laney teaching her pet rabbit tricks with her adored senior neighbor, to Hyacinth preparing the perfect Christmas gifts for her family, to the twins Isa and Jessie cooking a flawless holiday dinner without any burnt dishes. Better yet, a surprising plot twist comes up about two-thirds of the way through the novel. It shocked me when I first read it, but when I thought about it, there had been foreshadowing embedded into the earlier sections of the novel.
While the book is officially recommended for ages eight to twelve, I feel like it would resonate better with slightly older children, perhaps ages ten to thirteen. To me, some of the plot might be too complex for an eight year old; the characters are also more relatable for older readers.
This book is also ideal for fans of The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall; it has several similarities, including the aspect of a large family with many children. After reading both series, I found that a few of the characters in The Vanderbeekers series had a loose resemblance to the characters in The Penderwicks. For example, the independent and responsible character of Rosalind in The Penderwicks reminded me of Isa from The Vanderbeekers. Still, the plots of the two series are quite different; The Vanderbeekers series focuses more on family life with a sense of mystery while The Penderwicks series shifts more between family and school life.
Overall, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser is an excellent read and a warm and satisfying story.
The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser. Houghton Mifflin, 2018. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!