World Read Aloud Day Celebration!

Every year on World Read Aloud Day, educators, librarians, and authors from around the globe celebrate the special magic that happens when you read out loud to a child.  This year, as we celebrate the 10th annual World Read Aloud Day, we’ve invited four educators and authors to join us at the MGBookVillage to discuss reading aloud.

Jake Burt

bio2Jake is a 5th grade teacher and the author of Greetings From Witness Protection, The Right Hook of Devin Velma, and the upcoming The Tornado. You can connect with him on Twitter @JBurtBooks.

What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?
It’s the most formative event of my life as a reader: my father reading The Hobbit aloud to us when I was a kid. I’d get into my top bunk, my brother in the bottom, and my dad would sit in the chair across the room. I’d hang my head over the guardrail on top of a pillow and watch him like a hawk as he turned the pages, gesturing with his off-hand and contorting his face to deliver each character’s unique voice.
Why is reading aloud so important?
From building fluency to engaging imagination to modeling a love of the written word, read-aloud is an essential tool in a teacher or parent’s box. I think my favorite thing about it, though, is the way it allows for immediate, shared insight and conversation about a story. Whether it’s about a connection a child makes with a character or deconstructing a beautiful bit of prose; unpacking an intense, emotional scene or predicting what might happen next, those follow-up discussions are often just as enjoyable and meaningful as the performance itself.
What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?
I have read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book aloud over a dozen times now, and I still adore it. The book itself is fantastic, but there’s something special Gaiman does that 220px-thegraveyardbook_hardcovermakes it that much better as a read-aloud. If you dare to do voices for the characters…and oh lordy, do I do voices…it adds some absolutely delightful moments to a story already chock-full of them. (SPOILERS AHEAD) For instance, I’ll never get tired of hearing my class gasp when they hear Mr. Frost speak for the first time, his voice a more avuncular version of the man Jack from the beginning of the book. And giving Silas just a hint of the old Bela Lugosi is a great little nod for sharp listeners as to his true nature. The best part, though, might be that The Graveyard Book is one of those rare works of fiction that allows its main character to grow up. As Bod matures (both physically and emotionally), the performer gets to change his voice, too, allowing a deeper sense of understanding to develop between the narrative and the audience. All that, and the book has one of the greatest “Oooooh, SNAP!” lines in all of MG literature…folks familiar with the book will know the one…

Karina Yan Glaser

screenshot2019-01-31at10.57.19pmKarina is a contributing editor at Book Riot and the author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street and The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden. You can connect with her on Twitter at @KarinaYanGlaser

What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?
When I was in fourth grade, my teacher spent a lot of time reading aloud to us. She was new to teaching and reading aloud was one of the only ways to keep the classroom in order! I loved read aloud time. I have no memory of being read aloud to by my parents when I was growing, so the read alouds at school were magical. Now, as a parent, I love reading aloud to my kids. I actually started reading out loud to each of them when they were in the womb because I was so excited about reading children’s books to them! I especially enjoy reading aloud to them on the subway; it makes the commute feel short and I love spotting other subway riders listening in on the story.
Why is reading aloud so important?
Reading aloud is important for so many reasons, but for me I love that it invites opportunities for deeper connections between adults and kids. I adore the questions that my kids ask me when we read books together. Last night I read Ode to an Onion: Pablo Neruda and His Muse by Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Felicita Sala, to my nine-year-old daughter, and she had so Unknown-1.jpegmany funny questions: “Why is Pablo so gloomy?” “Why do onions make us cry?” “Was Pablo a real person?” “Can we read his poem about the onion again?” “Now can we read the poem in Spanish?” “Can we do shadow puppets behind the onion skin paper?”
What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?
Only one?! I have to name more than that, I’m sorry! The Wednesday Wars and Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt; Dreamers by Yuyi Morales; Alfie by Thyra Heder, Dave the Potter by Laban Carrick Hill, illustrated by Bryan Collier; The Best Man by Richard Peck; Her Right Foot by Dave Eggers, illustrated by Shawn Harris;Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip Stead and Erin Stead; and All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon, illustrated by Marla Frazee, are just some of the ones that I love to read aloud!

Christina Carter

Jg8RK8Mn_400x400.jpgChristina is a K-5 librarian, book reviewer, and ProjectLIT Buffalo site leader. You can connect with her on Twitter @CeCeLibrarian.

What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?

My favorite read aloud memory is with my Dad because he had his very own unique way of fracturing any story that was familiar. I can’t point to any specific book really but every time we sat down to read together was a blast. When I became an adult and then watched my Dad interact with his grandchildren, reading them stories in that same special way, it made (and still makes) my heart happy. I think this honestly is a HUGE reason why I love sharing fractured fairy tales.

Why is reading aloud so important?

Every read aloud we do with our children is an opportunity for them to fall in love with reading. I approach each read aloud that way, thinking, “what if this is that book that will spark the magic and wonder of their own imaginations and creativity or pique their curiosity to the point of further inquiry? ” Knowing that this is a possibility, I bring everything I have in me to the story rug; taking on the voice and role of each character and inviting our students to engage in this reading journey together. The read aloud gifts the participants with memories that will live on in their hearts as they recall the experience(s) that evening with their families or even years beyond this moment in time. It goes without saying, that I believe read alouds to be incredibly powerful!

What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?61ksfpfx5gl._sx384_bo12c2042c2032c200_

My absolute favorite read aloud at the moment is It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk by Josh Funk! It has been a big BIG hit with every grade level that I see in the library (K-5). The idea of Jack speaking directly to the narrator and giving him a hard time about how the story is going gets our students giggling every time! During our most recent read aloud, we turned it into a mini readers theater performance and I invited my library aide, our tech aide, and every and any adult who wanted to participate. We transformed our story rug into a “stage”, taking on the roles of each character and showed our students how to bring a story to life. Students then had a chance to come on up to the “stage” and read an advance copy of It’s Not Hansel and Gretel (also by Josh Funk). We had so much FUN! After every reading, students were like, “Again! Again!” This experience made my heart so happy and it is one that I will always remember.

Amanda Rawson Hill

author-photo-2018.jpgAmanda is cofounder of the MG @ Heart Book Club, a PitchWars mentor, and the author of The Three Rules of Everyday Magic. You can connect with her on Twitter at @amandarhill32


What’s one of your favorite read aloud memories?

My favorite read aloud memory is when my mom read the first Harry Potter to me and my siblings. Right around the troll scene, I picked up the book and finished it myself. Too impatient to keep taking it chapter by chapter!

Why is reading aloud so important?

Reading aloud is important because it changes books from a solitary experience to a shared one, which I think is a vital part of having them be well-loved and creating readers.

What is one of your favorite books to read aloud?

I love reading Neil Gaiman’s FORTUNATELY, THE MILK aloud. So many fun and silly voices plus lots of laughter.

Have a wonderful World Read Aloud Day and share your thoughts using the #WorldReadAloudDay hashtag!

A Conversation with Karina Yan Glaser: Books Between, Episode 46

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of stories to brighten our world and spark change within ourselves.  My goal is to help you connect kids with those amazing stories and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I am Corrina Allen – a mom of two tween girls, a 5th grade teacher, and surrounded by slime. Oh. My. God. There is no escaping this stuff – it’s like a preteen version of The Blob with sparkles and glitter and sequins and now – foams beads!

This is Episode #46 and today I’m sharing three books featuring the magical power of dogs, and then I’ll share with you a conversation with Karina Yan Glaser – author of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street!

Two quick announcements before we get started – the MG at Heart Twitter chat about  The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street is tomorrow night – Tuesday, April 3rd at 8pm EST using the hashtag #MGBookClub. And if you want to get ahead with your reading, the April Middle Grade at Heart Book Club pick is The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson and the May pick is Every Shiny Thing by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen. I was excited to have Laurie join me today to interview Karina and can’t wait to have her back to discuss her own debut.

Book Talk – Three Novels Featuring the Special Magic of Dogs

In this section of the show, I share with you a few books centered around a theme and discuss three things to love about each book.  This week I’ll be talking about three awesome middle grade novels about separation, unlikely friendships, and the special magic of dogs. Now I will admit up front that am not a huge dog person. I mean – a well-trained dog is an amazing pet, and I love visiting with my friend’s dogs but I am more than okay with not having one of my own. But these three books hit me hard – and if YOU love dogs, they will wend their way into your heart even more. The books this week are Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart, Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly, and Granted by John David Anderson.

Good Dog

81qemgIfCELFirst up –  Good Dog! Just….wow – Dan Gemeinhart hits another one out of the park! He is already a favorite author of so many of my students, and I’m glad to have another title to recommend after they have finished Scar Island or Some Kind of Courage or especially – The Honest Truth. This novel has a slightly different feel than his previous books. It is told from the point of view of Brodie – a dog who we meet just after he’s entered the great beyond after his death. And as our Brodie figures out the rules of this new place, and makes some friends, he remembers more of his past life on Earth. And remembers the danger that his boy, Aidan, is still in. And Brodie has to decide whether to move on to that ultimate Forever or if saving his boy from that threat is worth the awful price he’ll have to pay to even attempt helping him. Here are three things to love about Good Dog:

  1. The afterlife concept in this book. So – I don’t believe in life after death, but if it existed – I would hope it’s like this one. Going to an in-between place, a passing-through place where peace will rise up to you through your remembering as the goodness in you shakes off the last bits of darkness and sadness until you can move on to that final Forever.
  2. Tuck. I loved this dog – this sweet can’t-stand-still, can’t-be-quiet, always-running heart of gold black pit bull who was a good dog – even when it was hard. This dog who maybe – sort of – sold a bit of his soul for a French Fry. (Hey, I can relate!)
  3. It’s hard to explain how much I came to love this book without giving away a major spoiler. And I had prided myself on the fact that even though others had warned me to have tissues handy, I was fine… no tears, just FINE. Until page 285 when I learned that tiny but significant detail about the narrator that had me a sobbing wreck and needing to reread the entire thing!

Hello, Universe

30653713The second book I want to tell you about this week is the 2018 Newbery Award winner – Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly. This one has a special place in my heart because it’s a novel that my daughters and I experienced together. We listened to the audio book throughout December and January and grew so attached to – well, I was going to say, to all the characters in the book, but I’ll say all but one. Hello, Universe is a quietly powerful story told from the point of view of four children. Virgil Salinas, a shy and quiet boy who longs to be recognized as more than just the “turtle” of his family. And who wants to be friends with Valencia – the girl in his special needs class at school. His close friend is Kaori Tanaka who has this physic business for kids and who places a lot of stock in signs and horoscopes and telling fortunes and the concept of Fate. And the final of the main trio is Valencia Somerset, who loves nature and adventure and who is also deaf. She and Virgil attend the same school but haven’t really met. However, they’ve both met Chet Bullens – the school bully. The entire story takes place over the course of one day when at various times, all four children end up in the woods near their school. And one of them falls in an abandoned well. Here are three things to love about Hello, Universe.

  1. The blend of the mystical and the modern intertwined with Filipino folktales that really show the power of those stories across generations. And how those archetypes of heroes can inspire us to our bravery. Or as Virgil’s grandmother says, to discovering your inner “bayani” – your inner “hero”.
  2. Valencia! She was my favorite character – wise and clever and stubborn – and so attuned to others’ reactions to her deafness. Someone pointed out that hers is the only point of view told in the first person so maybe that’s why I identified so much with her. It’s a tiny moment but when she describes sneaking tupperware bowls of food into the woods to feed this poor stray dog, and how she never remembers to return them….. I felt like the author captured something so real there. I remember taking my mother’s measuring cups and spoons out to play in the dirt until suddenly we had none left. And there was this one summer where I fed this stray cat in our neighborhood for weeks…one can of tuna fish every day. I felt like there was something very true to preteens about that mix of compassion and cluelessness.
  3. The role of the dog in this book. Like I mentioned, Valencia has befriended this stray dog who lives in the woods. And he doesn’t play a huge part in the story – at first – but his role is crucial in surprising ways later on. He didn’t turn up when I thought he might. But I felt as though he could have known Brodie and Tuck from Good Dog.


x500And the final book I want to talk about this week is Granted by John David Anderson. You probably know him from the incredible Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted. Both of those novels were realistic fiction, male protagonists, with stories centered around school. Granted is totally different – it’s about a fairy named Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets. One of the dwindlingly few fairies in the Haven entrusted with the job of Granter – a fairy who ventures out of their safe community and into the dangerous human world to grant a wish. So – everyday, people wish on stars, or candles or wishbones – and each of those wishes (if they follow the rules) are entered into a lottery of sorts. But in the fairies’ world – their magic has been decreasing and the number of wishes they can grant has plummeted to the point where on Ophelia’s first day on the job only a handful are scheduled to be granted. So she has two problems on her mind – is the wish-granting system they’ve always followed breaking down and if so, what can they do to fix it? And… how to complete her mission to grant one lucky 13 year-old girl’s wish for a purple bike. All Ophelia has to do is fly to Ohio and find the nickel the girl used for her wish. But what should be a routine mission turn into this epic quest that has Ophelia questioning so much of, well – what she took for granted. Here are three things to love about Granted:

  1. The fairies’ names! They receive their middle name first – which comes from the plant where they were born. (Like Rose or Oak or Daffodil). Their last name is given by their Founder – the fairy who discovers the newborn sprite and oversees their early care and adds a name that expresses something about their personality. (Like Fidgets or Crier). And their first name is completely random. So you get names like our protagonist Ophelia Delphinium Fidgets, her best friend Charlie Rhododendron Whistler, May Rose Crier,  or…Gus Fothergilla Gaspasser!
  2. Sam!  The mangy, smelly golden-haired mutt who after first wanting to eat then chew then chase Ophelia, offers to help her track down the wish she must grant. And.. maybe get to eat some donuts along the way. Ophelia is definitely NOT into this arrangement. Their conversations are HILARIOUS!  
  3. Ophelia’s song. So – every fairy has a magical song that they can sing for a particular effect- perhaps enchanting the listener or having a more negative effect. And while most fairies opt for a traditional tune like “Greensleeves” or “Rolling in the Dew” or maybe even a Sinatra song, Ophelia’s song is….  oh I so want to tell you what it is! But you just have to read it! Let’s just say, it’s something more….modern!

Granted and Good Dog, and Hello, Universe are three books that will cast a magical spell on your heart.  


Karina Yan Glaser – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Karina Yan Glaser is author Laurie Morrison. We got an opportunity to sit down together last month to chat about brownstones, balancing your reading life, and of course – The Vanderbeekers!

Take a listen…

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina GlaserCA: Can you tell us what this story is about?

LM: I love that the book is so balanced between the Vanderbeekers and has five equally developed main characters. Was one of the kids especially challenging or especially fun for you to write? Do you have any advice for other writers who are working on stories with ensemble casts?

CA: One of the things that made me fall so hard for this book was that vibrant Harlem, New York setting with Castleman’s Bakery and the brownstones and City College in the background…  Was the Vanderbeeker’s neighborhood modeled after your own?

LM: I’ve seen many readers comment that the book feels classic or timeless or old-fashioned. What do you think it is about the book that makes it feel classic to readers?

LM: I noticed that you created the wonderful illustrations inside the book. How did you decide to include those, and were they always a part of the manuscript?

CA: I noticed that you have an adorable bunny! Can she do tricks like Paganini?

Your Writing Life

LM: I’m so excited that there are two more Vanderbeekers stories on the way! Did you always know there would be more than one book, and what has it been like to write more Vanderbeeker adventures?The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Final Cover

LM: I know you’re a contributing editor at Book Riot and write a weekly newsletter. That must mean you do a lot of reading and a lot of writing outside of your fiction! How do you balance those different kinds of book-related work?

Your Reading Life

Sometimes it only takes that one adult in a kid’s life to influence them as a reader – either in a positive way to spur them on and spark that passion in them, or sometimes to squelch it.

CA: Was there an adult in your life who impacted you as a reader?

LM: I think The Vanderebeekers of 141st Street would be a fabulous book to read aloud to kids. Do you have any favorite books to read aloud to your own kids or kids you’ve worked with in the past?

CA: What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Karina Glaser-31




Karina’s website –

Karina on Twitter and Instagram

BookRiot’s Children’s Section


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure (Jennifer Thermes)

Grandma Gatewood Hikes the Appalachian Trail (Jennifer Thermes)

The Penderwicks at Last (Jeanne Birdsall)

Tuck Everlasting (Natalie Babbitt)

See You in the Cosmos (Jack Cheng)

Ginger Pye (Eleanor Estes)

The Moffats (Eleanor Estes)

The Hundred Dresses (Eleanor Estes)

The Land (Mildred T. Taylor)

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry (Mildred T. Taylor)

Every Shiny Thing (Laurie Morrison & Cordelia Jensen)

They Say Blue (Jillian Tamaki)

Front Desk (Kelly Yang)

The Right Hook of Devin Velma (Jake Burt)

Greetings From Witness Protection (Jake Burt)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Screen Shot 2018-04-01 at 9.05.40 AMAnd – if you are wanting more discussion focused on middle grade, check out the new podcast called Lifelines: Books That Bridge the Divide hosted by authors Ann Braden and Saadia Faruqi. I’ll drop a link to their first two episodes in our show notes, and I am really excited to see more middle grade podcasts out there.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.


MG at Heart Book Club Book Review: THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Glaser.jpeg

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser is a charming, funny, and heart-warming book about the five Vanderbeeker kids—Isa, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney—and the plans they concoct to stay in their beloved Harlem home after their grumpy landlord decides not to renew their family’s lease.

It’s an absolute joy to read, and it would make a perfect class or family read-aloud. You will want to climb inside the world of this story and stay there, befriending the entire Vanderbeeker family!

Just in case you need any more convincing, here are our top five reasons why you should read the book, plus a “Which Vanderbeeker Are You?” quiz to help you determine your Vanderbeeker kindred spirit.

Top Five Reasons to Read The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

1.) The setting. The book features an extraordinarily vivid, delightful setting—Karina Yan Glaser does a masterful job of depicting the Vanderbeekers’ brownstone and their entire Harlem neighborhood. People often talk about world-building in fantasy or science fiction, but the world-building in this contemporary realistic story is top-notch.

2.) An interesting, happy family. It’s refreshing to read a book that features a big, noisy, content, biracial family with devoted parents and lots of lovable siblings and pets. Sure, the Vanderbeeker siblings have some conflicts, but the moments of affection between the kids and the parents are truly touching.

3.) The story isn’t just happy. Overall, this is a humorous, joyful story, and reading it feels a bit like curling up under a cozy blanket and eating Mama Vanderbeeker’s double chocolate pecan cookies. But there’s some tragedy in the novel as well, and it’s handled in an appropriately gentle way but is not at all sugarcoated. This is a comforting story, yes, but it’s set in a world in which sadness coexists with joy.

4.) The ensemble cast of main characters. In this book, you get five main characters for the price of one! All five Vanderbeeker siblings are equally lovable and equally well-developed. Any writers who want to write a book with an ensemble cast would do well to study this one!

5.) More Vanderbeeker adventures are on the way! After you fall in love with the Vanderbeekers in this book, you’ll get to read more about this charming family’s escapades! The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden releases on September 25, and then a third Vanderbeekers story will follow.

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden, Final Cover

All of the Vanderbeeker siblings are delightful, but which one is most like you? Take this quiz to find out!

1.) Your friend is having a terrible day. How would you cheer her up?

a.) By playing her favorite song for her.

b.) By creating a Rube-Goldberg-type machine that would light up with a smiley face.

c.) By writing her a haiku and challenging her to a game of pick-up basketball.

d.) By making her something crafty.

e.) By giving her lots of enormous hugs!

2.) Uh oh. You’ve done something that frustrated someone you care about. What did you do to push his buttons?

a.) You were working so hard on your favorite creative pursuit that you weren’t around to hang out when he came by to see you.

b.) You thought you knew what he would want in a certain situation, so you made a decision for him instead of letting him speak for himself.

c.) You lost your temper just a little bit and wrote him an angry note.

d.) You couldn’t quite summon up all your bravery and were too nervous to do something he wanted you to do.

e.) You got a little too exuberant and knocked him over with an extra-giant hug.

3.) It’s your birthday! What gift is at the top of your wish list?

a.) Tickets to a musical performance.

b.) An amazing chemistry set.

c.) New basketball sneakers and the new book by your favorite author.

d.) Arts and craft supplies and a recipe book.

e.) Fun clothes for dressing up.

4.) You’re working with a few other people on a group project. What role will you take on?

a.) You’ll be the leader who gets everyone organized.

b.) You’ll do all the detail-oriented sketches and calculations.

c.) You’ll be in charge of the written part.

d.) You’ll be in charge of the artistic stuff. Posters and other visuals have your name all over them.

e.) You’ll be the one to encourage everybody and to keep a positive attitude even when things are hard.

5.) What would other people say is your best trait?

a.) You’re a compassionate friend and you forgive people when they make mistakes.

b.) You’re extremely loyal, and you always stick up for the people you care about.

c.) You’re not too proud to learn from your mistakes, apologize for them, and make things right.

d.) You are always kind to everyone, people and animals alike, and you can be brave even when frightened.

e.) You make people laugh, and your enthusiasm and affection bring joy to others.

If you answered mostly A, you’re an Isa! Musical, organized, responsible, and kind.

If you answered mostly B, you’re a Jessie!  Passionate, scientific, and fiercely loyal.

If you answered mostly C, you’re an Oliver! You love sports, books, and poetry, and you truly want to do what’s right.

If you answered mostly D, you’re a Hyacinth! Brave when you need to be and kind to all.

If you answered mostly E, you’re a Laney! Funny, loving, and brimming with contagious joy.

. . .

We hope you love the book as much as we do, and we hope you’ll join us for the MG at Heart Book Club Twitter chat about THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET! It’s happening on Tuesday, April 3rd at 8:00PM EST. Use the hashtag #MGbookclub to participate!

MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Characterization

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 5.08.22 PM

Crafting a well-drawn, fully-formed character is one of the hardest parts of writing. And one of the most important. No high-octane, super exciting plot is going to matter if the reader doesn’t care about the character. In THE VANDERBEEKERS, Karina Yan Glaser doesn’t just have to create one real-feeling main character, but six! And yet, she’s able to do so within the very first chapter (only fifteen pages!).

So how does she do it? Well, let’s take a look.

The details and bits that make a character come to life are referred to as CHARACTERIZATION. Characterization includes how a character looks, what they like, how they react to things, their hobbies, their quirks, their idiosyncracies, their vocabulary — all of it. With six characters, Glaser has to characterize each one distinctly and with only a few, efficient brush strokes. Below, I’ve listed different ways that we can reveal a character’s nature with each Vanderbeeker sibling and the brief passages that give us insight into them. Most of these use several techniques at once, obviously. But I tried separating them a bit to help you see the different tools in Glaser’s toolbox.


Isa – 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.

This might seem like a story about Mr. Biederman, but it actually makes Isa this real person to the reader. Not only do we see her backstory of playing the violin, but we can tell that she is gentle and soft. That she appreciates pretty things. That she appreciates kind gestures. Look at how she remembers that moment. It says so much about her.

Outward Appearance

Laney – “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.

What can we see about Laney here? We read her as innocent and sweet. But possibly a handful and full of energy (hello, forward rolls.) What do you think her outfit says about her? I think it says free-spirit, independent, and bright and colorful!


Jessie – “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.”

And then later: “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.

What can we surmise about Jessie from these two excerpts? I’m definitely getting attitude and a bit of a sharp-around-the-edges personality.

The Reactions of Others

Hyacinth – “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.

Two sentences, and yet we already can tell that Hyacinth cares about animals and that animals love her. We also see that she is a bit on the nervous side, with the fingernail chewing.

Narrator Exposition

Of course, the Vanderbeeker home itself is also a character. One that the narrator straight up tells us things about. The paragraph on page 18 does this wonderfully.

The Vanderbeekers’ home—a humble red brown-stone with a weathervane that spun on windy days—sat in the exact middle of the street. The brownstone stood out not because of its architecture, but because of the constant hum of activity that burst out of it. Among the many people who had visited the Vanderbeeker household there was quite a bit of debate about what it was like, but general agreement about what it was NOT: Calm, Tidy, Boring, Predictable.

You don’t really need to draw any additional conclusions here because the narrator has told us exactly what the home is. However, she has done it in such a way that the house feels like an old friend, doesn’t it?

All of it Together

Oliver – 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.

There is so much information in just this paragraph. Already we can see the Oliver is smart, but maybe a little too smart. That he cares, but maybe tries to act like he doesn’t. You get the feeling that he likes snakes, wouldn’t mind getting a snake, and really likes to learn (as evidenced by the stack of encyclopedias.) The inclusion of sneakers on his feet also points to something. What is it?

As you read through the book, be sure to pay attention to other instances where the author quickly paints a picture of each character.

MG at Heart Book Club’s March Pick

The Middle Grade at Heart book club’s pick for March is . . .


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One of The New York 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.

★ “Glaser’s love for the Vanderbeekers shines through in her prose and stick drawings. Readers will look forward to future adventures. A highly recommended purchase for all middle grade collections.” —School Library Journal, starred review

★  “Few [families] in children’s literature are as engaging or amusing as the Vanderbeekers.” —Booklist, starred review

“…[Karina Yan Glaser’s] contemporary family narrative preserves the winsome tone and innocence of the aforementioned classics while updating them with a rich, modern diversity of characters, settings and problems….Glaser’s warmhearted story highlights a cold truth: What is often missing in the busy lives of today’s plugged-in, checked-out families is a sense of community. In the vast village of New York City, she suggests, what it takes to raise a child can still be found on one square block.” —The New York Times Book Review

. . .

Our newsletter — including an interview, discussion questions, activity, recipe, and more — will go out March 26. Sign up for it here. Our Twitter chat will happen April 3 at 8 pm EST.

MG at Heart Book Club’s 2018 Book Picks

February: SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Cheng

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Amazon   Indiebound


March: THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141ST STREET by Karina Yan Glaser

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Amazon   Indiebound


April: THE PARKER INHERITANCE by Varian Johnson

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Amazon   Indiebound


May: EVERY SHINY THING by Laurie Morrison and Cordelia Jensen

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Amazon   Indiebound


June: THE MAD WOLF’S DAUGHTER by Diane Magras

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Amazon   Indiebound


July: JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS by Melissa Sarno

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Amazon   Indiebound



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Amazon     Indiebound


September: THE HOUSE THAT LOU BUILT by Mae Respicio

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Amazon     Indiebound


October: THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC by Amanda Rawson Hill

(cover not yet revealed)

Amazon     Indiebound


November: THE HOTEL BETWEEN by Sean Easley

(cover not yet revealed)

(not yet available for pre-order)