Wednesday, October 04, 2017

No Place Like Home: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street, inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered for a family meeting. Papa adjusted his glasses. "You kids know how much Mama and I love you, right?"

Oliver, who was nine years old and wise in the ways of the world, squinted. "Are you guys getting divorced?"

"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. "STOP!" Mama threw up her hands. "Papa and I are not getting a divorce!" Papa stood up. His face was so grim that his ever-present smile creases disappeared. "I didn't see this coming, but Mr. Beiderman's not renewing our lease."

"What's a lease?" asked Laney.

Things have never been great between the lively Vanderbeeker kids and their curmudgeonly landlord. From the moment he'd screamed when the then six-year-old Isa had played her first violin solo, "Twinkle Twinkle" in front of his always closed door, the children knew The Beiderman wished they would leave. It didn't help when their dog Franz used his door for a fire hydrant, or when Oliver hit a baseball through his window and practiced dribbling his basketball loudly on the sidewalk in front of the brownstone. But Hyacinth had learned to walk Franz outside and Isa had practiced violin in the basement for years, and Oliver always played ball at the park now. They had tried hard, but now Beiderman is just a mean old hermit who is ruining Christmas and making them move from the only home they'd ever known.

The kids called their own meeting. They had only eleven days to save their home.

They decided that they would just have to try to win Mr. Beiderman over. But a surprise breakfast, with fresh bread and pastries from Castleman's Bakery, winds up a dropped mess in front of his door when Jessie sees his angry eyeball glaring at her through the peephole.

"Total... failure," she sobs to her siblings.

Hyacinth decides to try a holiday gift, a hand-stitched placemat in Christmasy colors and with Franz on his leash and on his best behavior, she heads upstairs to knock on Beiderman's door.

Hyacinth trembled as she stood before a monster of a man with shaggy, dark hair. His face was pale and lifeless. He was wearing black, black, black. "Leave me alone! Move out of here and let me be!" he bellowed.

The children decide to collect signatures from all their neighborhood friends on a petition to Mr. Beiderman to let them stay in the brownstone. As they talk to the neighbors, they learn that there is a sad story of the tragic loss of his own family behind Mr. Beiderman's seclusion. But when the landlord sees the petition, he angrily calls their parents, who order the kids to apologize to Mr. Beiderman.

Hyacinth picks a little black kitten from the litter mother cat Francesca Priscilla Arlington is raising under the hydrangea bush in the backyard, and wrapping her own rainbow knitted shawl around the kitten and placing him in a box, she steals up to leave the kitten at Beiderman's door, knocks, and races downstairs.

But as it began with Isa and her violin, the feud ends dramatically, with Isa, playing "The Swan" outside Beiderman's door, in Karina Yan Glaser's charming family novel, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017).

Each of the Vanderbecker kids is a distinct individual with whom different readers may identify, and their varied, funny, messy, and loving lives, although set in the present, have the nostalgic ambiance of family classics, from that favorite of yesteryear, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (Dover Children's Classics), to All-of-a-Kind Family to The Moffats and more recently, The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (see reviews here.) A story of a bitter, lonely man and a family sorrowfully facing the loss of their home, friends, and familiar neighborhood is a great holiday book for middle readers, an affirmation of the importance of an affectionate and tolerant family, a warm home, and a close-knit and caring multicultural community within a big city. Readers are going to be left longing for more stories of the Vanderbeekers from 141st Street.

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:57 AM  

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