Kids discover family history in The Vanderbeekers Make a Wish

Critics describe Glaser’s hit children’s series The Vanderbeekers as “pitch perfect” and “utterly enchanting.” In the latest adventure, this biracial family is on a mission to find the perfect way to celebrate their Papa’s fortieth birthday.



Karina Yan Glaser delivers heart and humor in the Vanderbeekers’ fifth book

Critics describe Glaser’s hit children’s series The Vanderbeekers as “pitch perfect” and “utterly enchanting.” In the latest adventure, this biracial family is on a mission to find the perfect way to celebrate their Papa’s fortieth birthday. Meanwhile, they find themselves learning more about all their grandparents—alive and dead. Glaser sets her books in contemporary Harlem, her own neighborhood. She shared her insights with Library Journal.

How have the Vanderbeekers changed since their first book in 2017?  

For starters, two and a half years have passed between book one and book five. Jessie and Isa, who were twelve-year-old twins in the first book, are entering their sophomore year in high school in the fifth book. The whole family has matured in many ways as new experiences crop up in each story. This has led to some growing pains while also allowing for opportunities to learn about themselves and their family.

Why hasn’t Papa ever introduced Jamal and Yardsy to his children? Are there more secrets to be revealed?  

As far as I know, there are no more secrets to be revealed with regards to Jamal and Yardsy, but maybe something will come up as I write the last two books! I think the simple reason is that they were more his dad’s friends than his own. Once Papa went away for college, he got married and had kids of his own. I know from experience that keeping up with people gets a lot harder when you have young children.

A stranger bullies Grandma about her accent. What’s the best way to talk to young readers about this moment? 

I think young readers will read the scene with Grandma and immediately recognize the injustice. I didn’t want to linger too much on the scene because frankly, that episode is all too common in the experiences of people of color. I witnessed it myself growing up with my Chinese family and continue to see that today in my own lived experience. I wanted readers to see that the way this stranger treated Grandma was a normal part of her life, which makes it all the more painful. I hope this scene will spark conversations about what to do when witnessing a situation similar to the one that Grandma experienced.

The Vanderbeeker kids visit Ms. Abruzzi, the librarian in silver pants and zebra-patterned boots. What’s been the best thing you’ve seen in a library since becoming an author?

There is a terrific librarian at my daughters’ school who very much reminds me of Ms. Abruzzi. I love discussing children’s books with her. When I was on book tour when The Vanderbeekers to The Rescue came out, I met a librarian who had adopted a bunny like the one the Vanderbeekers have. The bunny lived in the library! When I was doing my author visit, the rabbit hopped out of his cage and wandered among the kids. I loved hearing the exclamations of delight as the rabbit said hi to everyone. 

How does your Harlem neighborhood feel after such a consequential year? How has the COVID pandemic affected children in your neighborhood?  

I think Harlem, like most areas of America, had a difficult time during the pandemic. Some stores have closed their doors but many others have stayed open. A lot of activities moved outside during the pandemic; we definitely saw a huge increase in gatherings in our local parks. Many families created pods during distance learning, which was a great way for children to continue seeing their friends. Public schools began full time in-person learning just this week, and I think there is both joy and anxiety as schools and businesses open up again.

Do you know any real-life families who, like the Vanderbeekers, raise chickens in Harlem?  

Oh yes, New York City is a great place to raise hens! It’s a very hen-friendly city, and you do not need a special permit to have them because they are considered pets. Our friend lives in a brownstone and raises hens in her backyard. We buy beautiful eggs from her every week.

 Do kids pick up on fabulous puns like “romaine calm” and “knot too shabby?” 

The part of the book with the lettuce puns garnered the most laughs from my eleven-year-old daughter. She will repeat the puns at all hours of the day. I think anyone, regardless of age, can appreciate a good pun!


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