Site Areas: 
Printer-friendly version   

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

Last updated Monday, January 25, 2021

Author: Karina Yan Glaser
Date of Publication: 2018
ISBN: 1328770028
Grade Level: 5th    (GLCs: Click here for grade level guidelines.)
Date(s) Used: Dec. 2020

Synopsis: While Isa is off at sleepaway orchestra camp, Jessie, Oliver, Hyacinth, and Laney are stuck at home in the brownstone with nothing to do but get on one another’s nerves. But when catastrophe strikes their beloved upstairs neighbor, their sleepy summer transforms in an instant as the Vanderbeeker children band together to do what they do best: make a plan. They will create the most magical healing garden in all of Harlem.

Discussion topics for before reading:
•  Ask students to think about a park or play area in their community. Then discuss with them the types of events that occur in that area.
•  Page 6 and 7 show a diagram of the apartment building. See the Vanderbeekers living on the 1st and 2nd floors of the building, which New Yorkers call "ground and 1st floor." Miss Josie and Mr. Jeet live on the 3rd floor (what they call the 2nd floor. Mr. Beiderman lives on the 4th floor, which they call "third floor." What other descriptions can we name that vary by usage depending on where you live? Example: sub sandwich, grinder, hoagy for the same kind of sandwich.


•  brownstone (p.6) - a brown Triassic–Jurassic sandstone. A brownstone—the structure—first popped up in New York City in the early 19th century and is typically a city rowhouse clad in the eponymous sandstone. ... In fact, many of the earlier rowhouses have only a brownstone facade—the rest of the structure is brick—while later houses are made entirely of the sandstone.
•  Harlem (p.6) - section of New York City, in the northeast part of Manhattan.
•  launch (p.6) - a : to throw forward : hurl launched an arrow at a target. b : to release, catapult, or send off (a self-propelled object) launch a rocket
•  tulle (p.6) pronounced "tool." a thin, fine, machine-made net of acetate, nylon, rayon, or silk used for veils or dresses
•  tendrils (p.7)- slender threadlike appendages of a climbing plant, often growing in a spiral form, that stretches out and twines around any suitable support. Something resembling a plant tendril, especially a slender curl or ringlet of hair.
•  scales (p.8) - climbs
•  groundskeeper (p. 9) - a person who maintains an athletic field, a park, or the grounds of a school or other institution.
•  brittle (p.12) - hard but liable to break or shatter easily

Discussion topics for during/after reading:
•  Why is Isa away for the summer? How are Jessie and Isa coping with being separated for the first time? (page 8)
•  Why do the children finally agree to Miss Josie’s suggestion to build a garden in the empty lot by the church? (page 18)
•  Why is Mr. Jeet admitted to the hospital? What is the expected outcome of his stay in the hospital? (page 12, 19)
•  What is the purpose of the release form Jessie writes?
•  (if you get that far) Why is it so important to Oliver to complete the garden?
•  (if you get that far) Who is Orlando? Why is he moving to Harlem? What do he and Jessie have in common?

Craft ideas:
•  Draw the building you live in or a floor plan for your apartment (see Pinterest for what the Vanderbeekers' building and apartment look like, or go back to pages 7 and 14)
•  Ask students to draw a garden that they would plant if they could. They can then illustrate how their garden would look in bloom and write a paragraph or poem describing the garden.
•  Check our craft ideas on Pinterest!

Special activities:
•  Ask them to write a thank-you letter to the city for the development and upkeep of the park or play area they discussed before reading the book. Students should share an experience they had in the park in their letter.

*Note: These craft ideas are just suggestions. You can use them, but you don't have to use them. You can expand upon them, or add your own twist. Remember, though, that the focus of your time should not be on the development and execution of a craft; the focus should be on the read-aloud and the enjoyment of the book!