[The Vanderbeekers, Books 1&2]: A Review

Hi y’all and happy weekend!

Today I am excited to share my review of the first two books about the Vanderbeeker family: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden both by Karina Yan Glaser.

I heard about these books from the Read Aloud Revival and on a few blogs lately. I am so glad I picked them up! These are delightful stories in the same genre as The Penderwicks series which I fell in love with last year. It felt like these two rambunctious families could be crazy next door neighbors and share in hilarious misadventures.

Initial Thoughts:

  • I’d love to read this aloud to my kids one day. They are engaging, easy to follow stories that kids will love. These are quick reads and aren’t terribly long books. I finished each in about two days and loved how easy it was to get into the stories.
  • These books made me want to visit Harlem and fall in love with all the charm and details of that part of New York (especially Castleman’s Bakery–made my mouth water!) My single trip to NYC was almost 10 years ago on a trip we visited both the city and Boston. And I fell in love with the literary history of Boston. The Vanderbeekers make me want to fall in love with New York!
  • You better believe I already bought book one and am planning on book two as well!


The Vanderbeeker books tell the misadventures of the Vanderbeeker family and how they build relationship with their neighbors in their beloved Harlem neighborhood. According to Goodreads on book 1: “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.”

And Goodreads on book 2: “While Isa is off at sleepaway orchestra camp, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney are stuck at home in the brownstone with nothing to do but get on one another’s nerves. But when catastrophe strikes their beloved upstairs neighbor, their sleepy summer transforms in an instant as the Vanderbeeker children band together to do what they do best: make a plan. They will create the most magical healing garden in all of Harlem. In this companion to The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, experience the warmth of a family and their community as they work together to bring a little more beauty and kindness to the world, one thwarted plan at a time.

What I loved in both books: 

  • The Characters! The Vanderbeeker siblings are so relatable and easy to cheer for. I think Isa and Oliver were my favorites. It’s hard to choose just one Vanderbeeker! I’m an oldest sibling like Isa so I connected easily with her. And Oliver is the bookworm of the family so I enjoyed his bookish tendencies. But all the siblings are unique, engaging and so fun to follow through their adventures. I also love their neighbors from sweet and endearing Miss Josie and Mr Jeet to stingy and secretive Mr Beiderman. These characters are lush and feel like they could be my next door neighbors–I wish they were!
  • The Multiple Perspectives. I love books that get readers inside the heads of the main characters. And these are especially fun because we get inside all 5 siblings’ heads at least for a few chapters. It’s easy to keep track of which narrator we are reading. And I enjoyed how different the siblings see the same situation based on their interests and ages.
  • The Stories. These stories are pretty simple. They take place in a small setting. There isn’t anything out of the ordinary or magical or unrealistic that occurs. And that makes them all the more endearing. These kids love their home, they love their family and they love Harlem. And I love them for all that.

What I didn’t love:

  • Honestly, there’s not much I didn’t love. But if I’m being picky, I think the fact that the Vanderbeeker family is “a biracial family” is sometimes awkwardly included. I think it’s fine to have them be biracial. But a few times it seems dropped in unnecessarily and a bit awkwardly in the story. I think it is much better when the author is less obvious about race. This isn’t a story about race, it’s a story about family and home.

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

Such a sweet, fun story about an average family and all their average blunders. The story is simple–they have to move because their landlord won’t extend their lease and the kids decide to save their home. And everything goes wrong. It’s such an enjoyable story to read. I love all the gifts they try to give to Mr Beiderman and the beautiful, emotional ending.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

The story is more complex–a lovely blend of tragic, thoughtful, happy, and determined. I love the moment in this book when Oliver realizes he has judged Herman too harshly. And then the reader realizes we have been judging him according to what Oliver saw. It reminds me of Miranda’s similar moment in When You Reach Me. I enjoyed the opportunity to step back and see how I judge others myself.

Overall, I love the Vanderbeekers! And I will definitely be reading book 3 when it comes out later this year!

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Have you read the Vanderbeekers or the Penderwicks? 
Any favorite middle grade family novels I should read next?


12 thoughts on “[The Vanderbeekers, Books 1&2]: A Review

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