The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

If the Penderwicks (The Penderwicks on Gardam Street; The Penderwicks in Spring) were somehow to marry the Melendys (The Saturdays; The Four-Story Mistake), their babies would look a lot like The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. This endearing and precocious biracial family includes 12-year-old twins Jessie (a wild-haired scientist) and sweet, introverted, violinist Isa; nine-year-old Oliver, the lone boy of the family and a fan of treehouses and Treasure Island; six-year-old Hyacinth, who "always had her best ideas when surrounded by her favorite things: scraps of odd-shaped fabric... [and] fat spools of thread in a rainbow of colors"; and four-and-three-quarter-year-old Laney, or her alter-ego, Panda-Laney.

The Vanderbeekers have lived for many years in their beloved Harlem brownstone in a warm and culturally rich community. When their cantankerous landlord, a man they call "the Beiderman," announces a week before Christmas that he is not renewing their lease, panic and despair ensue. The parents are resigned, and begin looking for new rentals, but the children launch Operation Beiderman, a secret campaign to convince Mr. Beiderman to let them stay. Tactics include croissants and a kitten delivered to his door (not at the same time); a neighborhood petition; sabotaging the Beiderman's efforts to rent the apartment; and torturing him with sewing needles and Laney's hugs (that one was vetoed).

Karina Yan Glaser weaves all the wonderful elements of old-fashioned family novels into this contemporary, diversely populated story. The kids have wi-fi, but they also play music and read books and conduct elaborate scientific experiments. A heartwarming holiday story for any time of the year. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

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