Humorous and heartfelt, the five Vanderbeeker children will do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved brownstone home in this sweeping family story that is as lively, diverse, and noisy as any street in Harlem.
From New York Times best-selling author Karina Yan Glaser comes one of Times' Notable Children's Books of 2017: “In this delightful and heartwarming throwback to the big-family novels of yesteryear, a large biracial family might lose their beloved brownstone home, but win it back with an all-out charm offensive.”
The Vanderbeekers have always lived in the brownstone on 141st Street. It's practically another member of the family. So when their reclusive, curmudgeonly landlord decides not to renew their lease, the five siblings have eleven days to do whatever it takes to stay in their beloved home and convince the dreaded Beiderman just how wonderful they are. And all is fair in love and war when it comes to keeping their home.
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20
In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street, inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered in the living room for a family meeting. Their pets—a dog named Franz, a cat named George Washington, and a house rabbit named Paganini—sprawled on the carpet, taking afternoon naps in a strip of sunlight. The pipes rumbled companionably within the brownstone walls.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?”
The five Vanderbeeker kids looked at their parents.
“Good news,” said Isa and Laney.
“Bad news,” said Jessie, Oliver, and Hyacinth.
“Right-o,” said Papa. “Good news first.” He paused and adjusted his glasses. “You kids all know how much Mama and I love you, right?”
Oliver, who was nine years old and wise to the ways of the world, put down his book and squinted. “Are you guys getting divorced? Jimmy L’s parents got a divorce. Then they let him get a pet snake.” He kicked the backs of his sneakers against the tall stack of ancient encyclopedias he was sitting on.
“No, we’re—” Papa began.
“Is it true?” six-year-old Hyacinth whispered, tears pooling in her round eyes.
“Of course we’re—” Mama said.
“What’s a dorce?” interrupted Laney, who was four and three-quarters years old and practicing her forward rolls on the carpet. She was wearing an outfit of red plaids, lavender stripes, and aqua polka dots that she had matched herself.
“It means Mama and Papa don’t love each other anymore,” said twelve-year-old Jessie, glaring at her parents from behind chunky black eyeglasses. “What a nightmare.”
“We’ll have to split our time between them,” added Isa, Jessie’s twin. She was holding her violin, and jabbed her bow against the arm of the couch. “Alternating holidays and summers and whatnot. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Mama threw up her hands. “STOP! Just . . . every-one, please. Stop. Papa and I are not getting a divorce. Absolutely not. We’re going about this all wrong.” Mama glanced at Papa, took a deep breath, and briefly closed her eyes. Isa noticed dark circles under her mom’s eyes that hadn’t been there the week before.
Mama’s eyes opened. “Let’s start over. First, answer this question: on a scale of one to ten, how much do you like living here?”
The Vanderbeeker kids glanced around at their home, a brownstone in Harlem, New York City. It consisted of the basement; a ground floor with a living room that flowed into an open kitchen, a bathroom, and a laundry room; and a first floor with three bedrooms, a walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom where Oliver lived, and another bathroom, all lined up in a row. A door on the ground floor opened up to a skinny backyard, where a mommy cat and her new litter of kittens made their home under a hydrangea bush.
The kids considered Mama’s question.
“Ten,” Jessie, Isa, Hyacinth, and Laney replied.
“A million,” said Oliver, still squinting suspiciously at his parents.
“It’s the best place in the world,” reported Laney, who somersaulted again and knocked down Isa’s music stand. The pets scattered, except Franz, who didn’t flinch, despite now being covered in sheet music.
“We’ve lived here most of our lives,” said Isa. “It’s the perfect home.”
“Except the Beiderman, of course,” added Jessie. The Beiderman lived on the brownstone’s third floor. He was a seriously unpleasant man. He was also their landlord.
“Mr. Beiderman,” Papa corrected Jessie. “And funny you mention him.” Papa stood up and started pacing the length of the couch. His face was so grim that his ever-present smile creases disappeared. “I didn’t see this coming, but Mr. Beiderman just told me he’s not renewing our lease.”
“He’s not renewing our—” Jessie started.
“What a punk!” shouted Oliver.
“What’s a lease?” asked Laney.
Papa continued as if the kids hadn’t spoken. “Now, you have all done a great job this past year respecting Mr. Beiderman and his need for privacy and quiet,” he said. “I mean, I thought for sure he would have kicked us out a couple of years ago when Oliver hit that baseball through his window, or when Franz used his front door like a fire hydrant. I’m surprised he’s making us leave now, after a spotless record this year.” Papa paused and peered at his children.
The kids nodded and looked back at him with innocent eyes, all except Oliver, who was hoping no one remembered the little incident earlier that year when his Frisbee snapped a sprinkler pipe, causing a blast of water to shoot right into the Beiderman’s open window.
Papa did not bring up the sprinkler incident. Instead he said, “We have to move at the end of the month.”
The room exploded with indignation.
“Are you serious? We’ve been so good, there might as well be halos above our heads!” exclaimed Jessie, her glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose.
“I haven’t bounced a basketball in front of the building in months!” Oliver said.
“What’s a lease?” Laney asked again.
“Isa has to practice violin in the freaking dungeon!” said Jessie.
“Language,” Mama warned at the same time Isa said, “I like practicing down there.”
Papa looked at Laney. “We have a lease with Mr. Beiderman. It’s an agreement between us for living here.”
Laney considered what Papa said as she prepped another somersault. “So that means he doesn’t want us?”
“It’s not that?. . .” Mama trailed off.
“I think the Beetleman needs hugs,” Laney decided. She completed an accident-free somersault, then rolled over to lie on her stomach, searching for her bunny, who had taken refuge under the couch.
Jessie glanced at the calendar on the wall. “So that’s it? We’ve only got eleven days...
? "Glaser’s love for the Vanderbeekers shines through in her prose and stick drawings. Readers will look forward to future adventures. A highly recommended purchase for all middle grade collections." —School Library Journal, starred review
? "Few [families] in children’s literature are as engaging or amusing as the Vanderbeekers." —Booklist, starred review
"...[Karina Yan Glaser’s] contemporary family narrative preserves the winsome tone and innocence of the aforementioned classics while updating them with a rich, modern diversity of characters, settings and problems....Glaser’s warmhearted story highlights a cold truth: What is often missing in the busy lives of today’s plugged-in, checked-out families is a sense of community. In the vast village of New York City, she suggests, what it takes to raise a child can still be found on one square block." —The New York Times Book Review
"A heartwarming story about family and community that will appeal to readers who also enjoy an old-fashioned feel." —Kirkus
"With rich dialogue and detailed descriptions of the neighborhood, the text provides a humorous and heartwarming story about siblings uniting to save their home. Through the Vanderbeekers, Glaser provides a portrait of the splendors of Harlem and the sense of community that can be built among neighbors of all backgrounds. . . This will draw fans of rollicking family stories, and while it’s centered on Christmas, it would be enjoyable any time of the year." —Bulletin
". . . Uplifting. . . Readers who enjoy a cheery story that’s simultaneously old-fashioned and of the moment in its sensibility will enjoy this introduction to the Vanderbeekers and look forward to their future adventures." —Publishers Weekly
"Glaser’s third-person narration weaves individual characters’ plot threads and a palpable sense of place through the larger family story in the tradition of Jeanne Birdsall, Sydney Taylor, Elizabeth Enright, and Hilary McKay." —Horn Book
“The Vanderbeekers join the Melendys, the Cassons, and the ‘All of a Kind’ Family on my list of favorite book-families. I’m in love with every single Vanderbeeker! Their story is utterly enchanting: I did not want it to end. More, please?”
—Linda Sue Park, Newbery medalist
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