The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser
Format: E ARC
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Number of Pages: 336
Publishing: September 25th, 2018
Source: E ARC from Edelweiss Plus
Opening Line: "This is the most boring summer in the whole history of the world, nine-year-old Oliver Vanderbeeker announced."
The story begins as most summer vacation's do with a bit of boredom. Isa is away at an orchestra camp and siblings Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney are trying hard to entertain themselves around their lovely brownstone in Harlem. Their upstairs neighbor, Miss. Josie has been suggesting everything from reading a book to trying to get them interested in making a community garden in the unused land next to a church, but so far they haven't shown any interest. When Mr. Jeets unexpectedly has a serious medical emergency, the children hatch a secret plan to create a beautiful garden for him as a special surprise for when he is discharged from the hospital.
I must confess that I've never read The Penderwicks series by Jeanne Birdsall, but imagine them to be something like The Vanderbeekers. A large tightknit family, with siblings who each have unique personalities and who despite an occasional bicker, love, and care for one another tremendously. It's the kind of story that makes me very nostalgic about my own childhood, missing my extended family, friends, relatives, and neighbors. It just gives you that warm feeling of family and community and is such a sweet story.
This is the second book in the series, and it could be read as a stand-alone but I certainly would encourage you to start with the first book. I really enjoyed how the book is formatted with short chapters consisting of mini outings where the children are planning and preparing their garden while also dealing with the challenges and obstacles that come up along the way. Realistic problems like where to come up with the money to buy the plants and what to do when they find out that the land might be sold. The illustrations are charming and the story would work really well as a read aloud. There is some sadness when Mr. Jeets has his second stroke and has to go to the hospital, you can see how much the children care and worry about him. However, Yan Glaser handles the subject with such care and sensitivity, even interjecting humor at just the right moment keeping things light.
Oh, and The Vanderbeeker children, it's so difficult to come up with a favorite. I think this time around I really enjoyed Hyacinth, how she seems to see the good in people. Even recognizing that Herman Huxley has some wonderful qualities that her brother Oliver doesn't see. Or maybe it's just because they both seem to bond over a shared enjoyment in knitting. And who couldn't love Laney and her pet bunny Paganini? Despite being the youngest, she's quite clever and has the biggest heart. There's one particular moment of mischievousness that had me laughing out loud. A truly cozy story with memorable characters and a classic feel that I won't soon forget. Can't wait to read the next installment in The Vanderbeekers series, I'm hoping for something with a holiday theme.