Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of pages: 297
Published: October 3rd, 2017
Opening Line: "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."
Mr. Beiderman is the landlord of a lovely little brownstone on 141st Street in Harlem, New York City. He lives on the top floor and is very particular about his privacy and quiet, a sort of recluse with his only visitor being the lady who drops off his frozen dinners once a week. His presence, however, is felt by the rest of the residents of the brownstone. Over the past few years, the Vanderbeeker children, twins Jessie and Isa (12), Oliver (9), Hyacinth (6), and Laney (4 3/4 ), have all attempted to be on their best behavior so as not to anger the Beiderman, but despite their best effort, and right before Christmas no less, the family learns that he will not be renewing their lease. Not only are they devastated to learn they'll be leaving their beloved home, but they also may need to move away from Harlem altogether. Convinced that they can change his mind, the five siblings begin Operation Beiderman to prevent them from being evicted from their home, but "how do you make friends with a man you have never seen and who has not left his apartment in six years?"
There is so much to love about The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, everything from the setting to the characters and the storyline were just wonderful. First off is the setting of Harlem with all of these fun detailed descriptions of the brownstone and surrounding shops and landmarks, the darling black and white illustrations by the author for the layout of the ground floor apartment, an illustration of where the other residents of the building live and full-page map of Harlem on the front inside cover. And look at that cover, utterly gorgeous, the colors just pop. The Vanderbeekers are a large family that includes two parents, five siblings, a dog, a cat and even a bunny, together they bring all the joyous sounds of a bustling household with siblings who love and care about one another. Each of the children is delightful on their own and so individually realized and unique. There's even an extended family made of friends, relatives, and neighbors with lovely interactions between the Vanderbeeker children and their friends that appear in natural ways, with everything from the mailman who while dropping off the mail gets homemade dog treats from Hyacinth, Oliver and his best friend Jimmy who talk on their walkie talkie's, the upstairs neighbors Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet who visit with young Laney and even Isa's music teacher Mr. Van Hooten, who together give this book a warm, comfy feeling of both community and family. Not to mention there is a side story between one of the twins and Benny, whose mom owns the local bakery and a bit of a mix-up over an upcoming dance. Plus food, glorious food references making me want to try the hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon that was mentioned. I really love how the Vanderbeeker siblings are trying to win over their curmudgeonly landlord by drawing on their individual strengths in writing poetry, drawing, crafting, music, and kindness toward animals to make gifts for the Beiderman in hopes he would see how valuable they were and renew their lease. Their plans to smoother him with kindness don't always go as planned, but they aren't easily discouraged and they do make a lovely team. I was really touched when the reason Mr. Beiderman hasn't left his apartment was revealed, and how the children realized that "home is more than a place" and that what they really wanted is for Mr. Beiderman to feel better. I was also excited to see that the sequel The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden is already set to be released in September.
Favorite line: " Through her window she could see the last wrinkled leaves gripping the branches of the ancient red maple, refusing to drift down to the ground until absolutely necessary."