Book Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

05EE8F67-9BDE-4A73-A404-A9A6E4DA9DCBTitle: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street
Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Publisher: HMH
Publication Date: October 3, 2017

From HMH: A modern classic in the making reminiscent of the Penderwicks series, The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is about the connections we make and the unexpected turns life can take.
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.

Netgalley and HMH provided me an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

My Review: The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is THE middle grade book of the year! I received an advanced copy from Netgalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review and am so glad I requested this book. My husband and I took turns reading to our daughters for bedtime reading making it a lovely family affair. My only regret is reading it in October when it’s so perfect for the holiday season.
The Vanderbeekers are a charming and quintessential family – a diverse family of seven with the most adorable pets, a dog named Franz, a cat named George Washington and a bunny named Paganini. They live in a brownstone in Harlem amongst a close community. The Vanderbeekers have always lived in their beloved brownstone but when their lease is threatened by their awful landlord, The Biederman, the children come together to roll out their most creative and resourceful selves to appease The Biederman. A heart-wrenching event tests their empathy and compassion which made me love the Vanderbeekers so much.
My kids are gifting this book for friends’ birthdays because it belongs in the hands of every middle grade child (and adults too!). I cannot wait for the sequel in 2018!

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Book Review: Echo

E992E685-1FAF-4FE0-B545-00BE6534793ATitle: Echo
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From Scholastic: Lost and alone in the forbidden Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives, binding them by an invisible thread of destiny. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. How their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.

Richly imagined and structurally innovative, Echo pushes the boundaries of form and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories.

My Review: Echo opens up as a fairytale in the Black Forest, Germany. Otto makes the acquaintance of three sisters who tell him a story of a prophecy and give him a harmonica marked with an M.

First we meet Friedrich, a boy growing up in Nazi Germany with a penchant for music he dreams of being an orchestra conductor. Born with a large birthmark on his face, Friedrich knows he will never see his dream come true under Hitler’s superior race.

Next we meet Mike in Depression-era Pennsylvania. He and his younger brother, Frankie live in an orphanage for hopeless and destitute children. Life for the boys does a 180-degree turn when wealthy Mrs. Sturbridge adopts them but she’s not interested in mothering them and soon the brothers are destined to be split up and sent away. Mike works a deal with Mrs. Sturbridge to ensure Frankie stays with her.

Finally we are transported to Southern California where Ivy Lopez is the daughter of immigrant migrant workers. Post-Pearl Harbour, the farm Ivy’s parents run belongs to a Japanese-American couple, the Yamamotos, who are in an internment camp. The government grows suspicious of the Yamamotos and Ivy’s family gets caught in the crosshairs trying to protect them.

I listened to the audiobook, which I highly recommend because of the beautiful and powerful harmonica interlude between chapters.

Echo’s narrative is beautifully woven spanning time and place, family hardships and the harmonica tying three children together. This book should be required reading for all middle grade children and adults alike.

Book Review: From The Mixed Up Files Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

273CA794-CE9C-43E1-8C5D-E9554330853CTitle: From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Author: E.L. Konigsburg
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: September 2007 (originally published in 1967)
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From Simon & Schuster: When suburban Claudia Kincaid decides to run away, she knows she doesn’t just want to run from somewhere she wants to run to somewhere—to a place that is comfortable, beautiful, and preferably elegant. She chooses the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Knowing that her younger brother, Jamie, has money and thus can help her with the serious cash flow problem she invites him along.

Once settled into the museum, Claudia and Jamie, find themselves caught up in the mystery of an angel statue that the museum purchased at an auction for a bargain price of $250. The statue is possibly an early work of the Renaissance master Michelangelo, and therefore worth millions. Is it? Or isn’t it? Claudia is determined to find out. This quest leads Claudia to Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the remarkable old woman who sold the statue and to some equally remarkable discoveries about herself.

My Review: FROM THE MIXED UP FILES OF MRS. BASIL E. FRANKWEILER is a testament of timeless literature and it’s no surprise sealed itself a Newbery Award and still a favourite among both children and adults fifty years later.

I immediately fell in love with Claudia and Jamie. Their plan to run away and take up residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and learn alongside the visiting school groups exudes creativity and yearning for knowledge alongside their financial savviness and street smarts sucked me into this unique story.

The brief afterward is every bit as good as the story itself. The comparisons between then and now are thought provoking and nostalgic.

This story is good old fashioned literature at its finest and a book that should be on every child’s bookshelf.

Book Review: George’s Secret Key to the Universe

IMG_0919Title: George’s Secret Key to the Universe
Author: Lucy & Stephen Hawking
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Young Readers
Publication Date: January 2011
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

From Simon & Schuster: Stephen Hawking and his daughter, Lucy, provide a grand and funny adventure that explains fascinating information about our universe, including Dr. Hawking’s latest ideas about black holes. It’s the story of George, who’s taken through the vastness of space by a scientist, his daughter, and their super-computer named Cosmos.

My Review: If your young reader enjoys science and technology and action and adventure then s/he will love GEORGE’S SECRET KEY TO THE UNIVERSE. If you follow me over on Instagram (@readingcolumn) you know I’ve been reading this super fun book at bedtime to my three daughters and they loved it! And this book is the gateway to getting my reluctant reader (who loves science and math) to start reading on her own without me hounding her to read. Win-win!

George is a curious boy whose parents don’t believe in technology and want him to stay away from their science-y neighbours, Eric and his daughter Annie. When George’s pet pig Freddy wanders into Annie’s backyard his curiosity gets the best of him and he quickly finds himself in what appears at first glance an abandoned house but turns out is occupied by Annie, Eric and their super-computer Cosmos. Cosmos sends George, Annie and Eric into outer space to find a habitable planet but George’s evil teacher Dr. Reaper wants to steal Cosmos and use the super computer for his own sordid agenda.

This book is fast-paced, fact-filled and includes lots of outer space graphics and fun facts. I highly recommend this book to any youngster who is curious about space exploration.