From New York Times best-selling author Karina Yan Glaser comes one of Times' Notable Children's Books of 2017: “In this delightful and heartwarming throwback to the big-family novels of yesteryear, a large biracial family might lose their beloved brownstone home, but win it back with an all-out charm offensive.” 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.
About the Author
Karina Glaser lives in Harlem, New York City, with her husband, two daughters, and assortment of rescued animals. One of her proudest achievements is raising two kids who can't go anywhere without a book. This is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20
In the middle of a quiet block on 141st Street, inside a brownstone made of deep red shale, the Vanderbeeker family gathered in the living room for a family meeting. Their pets—a dog named Franz, a cat named George Washington, and a house rabbit named Paganini—sprawled on the carpet, taking afternoon naps in a strip of sunlight. The pipes rumbled companionably within the brownstone walls. “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” The five Vanderbeeker kids looked at their parents. “Good news,” said Isa and Laney. “Bad news,” said Jessie, Oliver, and Hyacinth. “Right-o,” said Papa. “Good news first.” He paused and adjusted his glasses. “You kids all know how much Mama and I love you, right?” Oliver, who was nine years old and wise to the ways of the world, put down his book and squinted. “Are you guys getting divorced? Jimmy L’s parents got a divorce. Then they let him get a pet snake.” He kicked the backs of his sneakers against the tall stack of ancient encyclopedias he was sitting on. “No, we’re—” Papa began. “Is it true?” six-year-old Hyacinth whispered, tears pooling in her round eyes. “Of course we’re—” Mama said. “What’s a dorce?” interrupted Laney, who was four and three-quarters years old and practicing her forward rolls on the carpet. She was wearing an outfit of red plaids, lavender stripes, and aqua polka dots that she had matched herself. “It means Mama and Papa don’t love each other anymore,” said twelve-year-old Jessie, glaring at her parents from behind chunky black eyeglasses. “What a nightmare.” “We’ll have to split our time between them,” added Isa, Jessie’s twin. She was holding her violin, and jabbed her bow against the arm of the couch. “Alternating holidays and summers and whatnot. I think I’m going to be sick.” Mama threw up her hands. “STOP! Just . . . every-one, please. Stop. Papa and I are not getting a divorce. Absolutely not. We’re going about this all wrong.” Mama glanced at Papa, took a deep breath, and briefly closed her eyes. Isa noticed dark circles under her mom’s eyes that hadn’t been there the week before. Mama’s eyes opened. “Let’s start over. First, answer this question: on a scale of one to ten, how much do you like living here?” The Vanderbeeker kids glanced around at their home, a brownstone in Harlem, New York City. It consisted of the basement; a ground floor with a living room that flowed into an open kitchen, a bathroom, and a laundry room; and a first floor with three bedrooms, a walk-in-closet-turned-bedroom where Oliver lived, and another bathroom, all lined up in a row. A door on the ground floor opened up to a skinny backyard, where a mommy cat and her new litter of kittens made their home under a hydrangea bush. The kids considered Mama’s question. “Ten,” Jessie, Isa, Hyacinth, and Laney replied. “A million,” said Oliver, still squinting suspiciously at his parents. “It’s the best place in the world,” reported Laney, who somersaulted again and knocked down Isa’s music stand. The pets scattered, except Franz, who didn’t flinch, despite now being covered in sheet music. “We’ve lived here most of our lives,” said Isa. “It’s the perfect home.” “Except the Beiderman, of course,” added Jessie. The Beiderman lived on the brownstone’s third floor. He was a seriously unpleasant man. He was also their landlord. “Mr. Beiderman,” Papa corrected Jessie. “And funny you mention him.” Papa stood up and started pacing the length of the couch. His face was so grim that his ever-present smile creases disappeared. “I didn’t see this coming, but Mr. Beiderman just told me he’s not renewing our lease.” “He’s not renewing our—” Jessie started. “What a punk!” shouted Oliver. “What’s a lease?” asked Laney. Papa continued as if the kids hadn’t spoken. “Now, you have all done a great job this past year respecting Mr. Beiderman and his need for privacy and quiet,” he said. “I mean, I thought for sure he would have kicked us out a couple of years ago when Oliver hit that baseball through his window, or when Franz used his front door like a fire hydrant. I’m surprised he’s making us leave now, after a spotless record this year.” Papa paused and peered at his children. The kids nodded and looked back at him with innocent eyes, all except Oliver, who was hoping no one remembered the little incident earlier that year when his Frisbee snapped a sprinkler pipe, causing a blast of water to shoot right into the Beiderman’s open window. Papa did not bring up the sprinkler incident. Instead he said, “We have to move at the end of the month.” The room exploded with indignation. “Are you serious? We’ve been so good, there might as well be halos above our heads!” exclaimed Jessie, her glasses slipping down the bridge of her nose. “I haven’t bounced a basketball in front of the building in months!” Oliver said. “What’s a lease?” Laney asked again. “Isa has to practice violin in the freaking dungeon!” said Jessie. “Language,” Mama warned at the same time Isa said, “I like practicing down there.” Papa looked at Laney. “We have a lease with Mr. Beiderman. It’s an agreement between us for living here.” Laney considered what Papa said as she prepped another somersault. “So that means he doesn’t want us?” “It’s not that . . .” Mama trailed off. “I think the Beetleman needs hugs,” Laney decided. She completed an accident-free somersault, then rolled over to lie on her stomach, searching for her bunny, who had taken refuge under the couch. Jessie glanced at the calendar on the wall. “So that’s it? We’ve only got eleven days left here?” “He’s really going to make us move right after Christmas?” asked Isa. “Is it because I can’t keep Franz quiet?” asked Hyacinth as she chewed her fingernails. When Franz heard Hyacinth say his name, his tail gave a little wag and his eyes fluttered open, then drifted closed again. “I think it’s my fault,” Isa said. Her siblings stared at her. No one could imagine perfect Isa ever being the cause of getting kicked out of their home. “You know, because of my violin playing.” “Kids, it’s no one’s fault,” Mama interjected. “Remember how Papa and Uncle Arthur installed those energy-saving windows last year? Those windows are much more soundproof than the old ones. We’ve done all we can to try to persuade Mr. Beiderman to let us stay. I even left a box of lavender macarons outside his door.” Mama blinked rapidly. As a professional pastry chef, she took macarons very seriously. “What a waste,” grumbled Oliver, who also took macarons very seriously. “Will our new place have a basement? So I can practice?” Isa asked. “I’m only moving if I can have a science lab in the new place. With a Bunsen burner. And new Erlenmeyer flasks,” Jessie said stubbornly. “My room’s going to look exactly the same, right? Like, exactly?” asked Oliver. “Will we move close by? So Franz can keep all his doggie friends?” asked Hyacinth. At Hyacinth’s comment, the other kids’ eyes widened. They’d never considered that they might have to leave the neighborhood where they knew everyone on the block by name, age, and hairstyle. “I’ve lived in this neighborhood my whole life,” Papa said. “My job is here.” Only Hyacinth noticed that he didn’t answer her question or look anyone in the eye when he said that. “Listen, kids, I have to fix the wobbly banister on the second floor and then take the building trash out. But we’re not done talking about this, okay?” Papa took his worn blue coveralls off the coat hanger and pulled them over the work clothes he was wearing for his computer repair job; the coveralls looked like something an auto mechanic would wear. Papa observed the somber faces of his kids. “I’m really sorry about this. I know you love this place. But I promise, this will turn out okay.” He slipped out the door. The kids hated when their parents talked about things turning out okay. How could they know? Before the kids could start in with the questions again, Mama’s cell phone pinged. She glanced at the caller, then back at the kids. “I have to get this. But . . . don’t worry. We’ll talk about it more, I promise!” The kids watched her rush up the stairs, then heard her say, “Yes, Ms. Mitchell, thank you for calling. We’re very interested in that apartment you listed—” followed by her bedroom door shutting. “Move!” said Oliver, breaking the silence. “That’s bananas! Rotten Beiderman.” “I can’t imagine not living here,” Isa said, her fingers running over her violin strings. “I really hope it wasn’t my violin playing that caused all this.” Isa had discovered Mr. Beiderman’s particular distaste for instruments six years ago, when she was in first grade. She was performing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on her tiny, one-eighth-sized instrument for their second-floor neighbor, Miss Josie. Isa stood outside Miss Josie’s apartment, but halfway through her song, Mr. Beiderman’s door on the third floor burst open. He yelled down the staircase for the terrible racket to stop or he would call the police. Then the door slammed. The police! On a six-year-old violinist! Isa was in tears, and Miss Josie invited her in and fed her cookies from a delicate china dish and gave her a pretty lace handkerchief to dry her eyes. Then Miss Josie insisted that Isa keep the handkerchief, which Isa to this day stowed in her violin case. “It makes no sense,” said Jessie, pacing back and forth between the couch and the picture window. She ran her hands through her wild hair, which made her look like a crazed scientist. “Newton’s third law says that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Now consider this: Papa does so much for the building. He keeps the front stoop clean, he rakes leaves, he shovels snow. He saves the Beiderman so much money by doing all the repairs himself. So what about Newton’s third law? The Beiderman kicking us out of the building is not an equal reaction.” “I want to see a Newton!” exclaimed Laney. “I don’t think that law applies here,” said Isa, unconsciously adjusting her neat ponytail into an even neater ponytail. “Newton’s laws apply to everything,” Jessie said with her I’m-right-and-no-one-can-convince-me-otherwise voice. “Uncle Arthur helps with the big repairs,” Oliver commented as he searched through the stack of ancient encyclopedias for the one marked with an N. “Papa does all the daily stuff,” Jessie pointed out. “And he fixes Uncle Arthur’s laptop whenever it breaks.” Oliver pulled the correct encyclopedia from the stack and flipped through it. “Newton is this guy,” he said to Laney, pointing to a photo in the book. “He has very nice hair,” said Laney, running her fingers over the picture. “Don’t read that,” scolded Jessie. “Those books are sixty years old and full of inaccurate science.” “Okay, people,” Isa interrupted. “Let’s get back on topic. I figure we have until Christmas to convince the Beiderman to let us stay.” “That’s only four and a half days!” Jessie exclaimed. She looked at her watch. “One hundred and six hours.” “Exactly. Less than five days, people. Who has ideas?” “Give him lots of hugs?” suggested Laney. Oliver rubbed his hands together and raised one eyebrow. “Let’s spray-paint his door.” He gave a dramatic pause. “With disgusting bathroom words.” Isa ignored her brother. “Laney, I think you’re right. We should try to do nice things for the Beiderman. You know, change his mind about us.” Jessie and Oliver looked skeptical. Hyacinth looked scared. Laney looked ready to give out hugs. Lots of hugs. After a long silence, Oliver shrugged. “I’d be willing to do nice things for him. If he lets us stay.” “I guess I can try to be nice to him,” Jessie said. Isa gave her a grateful look. “Although if this doesn’t work, Oliver and I totally get to spray-paint his door. What do you think, Hyacinth?” “He scares me,” Hyacinth said, chewing at her pinky finger. “It’s five against one!” said Oliver. “What could he do to us, anyway?” “I know you can do this,” Isa said to Hyacinth. “You need to channel Hyacinth the Brave.” Hyacinth nodded but continued gnawing on her pinky. Isa mused. “Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to convince the Beiderman to let us stay? It would be like giving Mama and Papa the most amazing Christmas present ever.” The Vanderbeeker kids thought about giving their parents the Best Christmas Present Ever. Of course, Hyacinth had already made presents for them—she had completed them two months ago—but she liked the idea of a group gift. Oliver, who had spent quite a bit of time contemplating what he was going to get for Christmas, just remembered he was expected to give gifts as well. “Mama and Papa deserve an amazing present from us,” Oliver decided. “Let’s keep it a secret.” Isa looked at him. “You haven’t gotten them anything yet, have you?” Oliver quickly changed the topic. “If it’s a secret, we need to make sure you-know-who doesn’t spill the beans.” He gave a not-so-discreet nod toward Laney. “Laney, this is a secret,” instructed Jessie. “Right,” Laney agreed promptly. “Right what?” Jessie said. “Right, let’s be nice to Beegermack,” Laney said. “Yes, but we’re going to keep it a secret from Mama and Papa. Right, Laney?” Jessie prompted. “Right!” The five kids started exchanging ideas for winning over the man on the third floor. Operation Beiderman had officially begun. They tried to feel hopeful about their plan, but in the back of each of their minds, they were all thinking the same thing: How do you make friends with a man you have never seen and who has not left his apartment in six years?