Many of us would give our eyeteeth to spend a few days with the Vanderbeeker family in their comfy brownstone apartment in Harlem. Father is warm and funny, and Mother bakes the best Christmas cookies ever. Ida and Jessie, 12-year-old twins, are unique and multitalented, and Oliver, the only boy, sleeps in a tiny closet bedroom crowded with books. The youngest Vanderbeekers are Hyacinth, shy and crafty, and charming Laney, just 4 and always ready with a hug. Two dogs and a pet rabbit round out the chaos.
The story of the Vanderbeekers begins with a ticking clock. Just before Christmas, the family’s cranky landlord tells them their lease will not be renewed. They must move by New Year’s Day. As the hardworking parents consider where to relocate, the kids are devastated. They devise “Operation Biederman” to convince the mean-spirited landlord to let them stay. With deceptively simple language, author Karina Yan Glaser weaves an intricate tapestry using strands of each child’s personality—their hopes, dreams and special talents. With poignancy and humor, Glaser succeeds in creating an unsentimental portrayal of a loving, biracial family whose strength lies in their connection to each other, their creativity and tenacity.
The old brownstone and the Harlem neighborhood become characters, but the children remain the heroes of the story. Their inventiveness and belief that they will win over “the Biederman” through acts of kindness are fully credible and heartwarming. Glaser’s debut novel will leave readers begging for more.
Billie B. Little is the Founding Director of Discovery Center at Murfree Spring, a hands-on museum in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.