Katie Fitzgerald highlights a newly discovered favorite children’s book series.
I preview every newly published book my kids read before they ever crack the cover open. It is always a happy experience to discover a book—or better yet, an entire series!—that not only meets with my approval but exceeds my expectations. This was the case with the Vanderbeekers series by Karina Yan Glaser. If these books aren’t on your radar yet, I want to put them there!
The Vanderbeekers series now comprises six volumes, following the adventures of a biracial family living in Harlem. The five kids—Jessie, Isa, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney—live in part of a brownstone with their parents, and they really love their neighborhood and community. In the opening book of the series, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, the Vanderbeekers’ reclusive landlord, Mr. Biederman, lets the family know he will not be renewing their lease. Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbeeker respond in a practical manner by beginning to look for new housing and starting to pack up their belongings.
The kids, meanwhile, can’t imagine living anywhere else, and they set out to win over Mr. Biederman so that he will want them to stay. In the process, they uncover a deep source of pain in their landlord’s past, and by offering him an opportunity to grieve and heal, they also learn why he has asked them to leave and what might make it possible for them to stay.
This plotline is representative of the kinds of stories this series tells. In each book, the Vanderbeekers gain insight into the feelings and needs of the people around them, whether that is members of their own family, boys the older girls might be interested in, an elderly neighbor facing death, or a stern and nitpicky grandmother. Characters young and old are presented with dignity, and the Vanderbeekers show real sympathy for those who are struggling, from their own mother when she’s trying to pass inspection so she can maintain her home baking business to a young boy in need of a guardian while his mother is unable to care for him. These books take on difficult real-world issues with a hopeful and positive outlook, and they promote family love and unity as the key to solving problems.
I personally feel a kinship with Mrs. Vanderbeeker, as we both have five kids, including twins, we live in rental homes, and we’re about the same age. She’s as much a role model for my parenting as her children are good examples for my kids. I’m also a big fan of classic family stories from children’s literature, such as the Melendys series by Elizabeth Enright (beginning with The Saturdays) and the Moffats series by Eleanor Estes (beginning with The Moffats) and the Vanderbeekers, though contemporary, fit right in among these old favorites.
The books in this series make wonderful family read-alouds, and the audiobooks read by Robin Miles are also a delight. If you haven’t read these yet with your kids ages 5 to 12, head to your nearest library and check them out. You won’t be disappointed!
Copyright 2023 Katie Fitzgerald
About the Author
Katie Fitzgerald is a former children's librarian turned stay-at-home, homeschooling mom. She and her librarian husband live in Maryland with their five children, the youngest of whom are boy/girl twins. She has published two textbooks for librarians, and she writes about homeschooling, books and the reading life from a Catholic perspective at ReadAtHomeMom.com and on Instagram @read.at.home.mom.