The Umbrella House Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

“Seventh graders Roxy Markowski and Scout Chang-Poulin are longtime best friends. They live in Umbrella House, a real co-op in New York City’s East Village. In 1988, the then-abandoned building was occupied by squatters who restored it, after which the city government legalized the situation. Several decades later, this realistic, contemporary novel, narrated by Roxy, tells another story. A developer is buying up properties and needs the city council’s permission to acquire the building. Long-term inhabitants of the East Village, which is known for its artists, musicians, and activists, see this as unwanted gentrification….The kids join with neighbors to save their building….Blending fact, fiction, social issues, and friendship, this novel ably highlights young people’s strengths….An uplifting account of creative kids working to preserve a city landmark.”

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“Ruby’s first-person narrative explores her worries about the battle against gentrification, a relevant theme for kids in many cities, as well as her shifting friendship with Scout. Nelson, who has lived in New York, creates a cast of interesting characters with Umbrella House (a real place with a colorful history) and its neighborhood as the setting. A well-paced story with a satisfying conclusion.”

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Publishers Weekly

“Taking inspiration from the real-life Umbrella House in Manhattan…this story blends present-day drama and nostalgia for grittier times. Nelson (The Undercover Book List), who, according to an end note, lived in N.Y.C. in the early 2000s, sketches the events in approachable, page-turning prose. With its gumshoe kids and a grassroots heart reminiscent of Seedfolks, Nelson’s novel both commends activists’ can-do spirit and emphasizes the heights to which one can go when backed by unwavering communal support..”

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Quill & Quire 

“With a delightful blend of themes about justice and the importance of art, The Umbrella House reads like a cozy concoction of Karina Yan Glaser’s The Vanderbeekers series and Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s Me and Banksy. There is also a comforting current of hope that gently but resolutely runs through the novel. Even when plans go awry or things seem to turn grim, readers cannot help but feel a flutter of possibility that David can indeed (and should) take on Goliath.

A contemporary story based on the real-life Umbrella House in New York City, Nelson offers readers a strongly written and beautifully heartening novel, rich with a wide cast of appealing characters.”

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Youth Services Book Review

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4.5…This book is a page-turner of discoveries, friendships, family, history, and graffiti art as activism and protest….The Umbrella House is a dynamic story of tenacity–a fight for justice and compassion around housing and the politics of who deserves to be housed.  Colleen manages to create some mystery and angst, which all contribute to the fast-paced, plot-driven narrative.  These middle schoolers evoke a hope for change while also navigating the complexities of growth in friendship as they relate to self-discovery and passion.

A thoughtful author’s note, map, photos, and sources are included to guide the reader in learning more about the history behind the Umbrella House and the Lower East Side. This book should not be missed.  Display it proudly alongside other books inspiring social change, drawing attention to gentrification, housing insecurity, graffiti murals, and community pride.”

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Canadian Materials 

“Featuring two young people with lots of initiative and a mature appreciation of their community, The Umbrella House is a compelling read. Scout and Ruby are well-developed characters; Scout is less confident than Ruby, but both are equally talented, thoughtful and committed. A believable cast of eccentric local characters brings wisdom, encouragement and a variety of skills and memories to aid the children with their film. The unique charm of the East Village is clearly shown, revealing its history, vitality, artistry and the relationship between local businesses and residents….The Umbrella House is a fast paced read that is both enjoyable and encouraging. With a little mystery, a lot of love, some endearing characters, a portrait of a traditional part of New York and a triumph of community over greed The Umbrella House will appeal to children aged 8-12. Highly Recommended

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YA Books Central 

“New York City has so much rich history, and I know so little of it! I’m always glad for books like Tarpley’s The Harlem Charade or Rodriguez and Bell’s Doodles from the Boogie Down that offer a tantalizing glimpse into a more urban existence. It’s fascinating that a city would choose to cut holes in the roof of a building and fill the pipes with cement rather than trying to sell or tear down an abandoned edifice. The artistic culture that Roxy’s grandmother is part of certainly benefitted from it, and the portrayal of a neighborhood in transition is an interesting one.

Roxy and Scout are very dedicated to their news reporting, and Veracity News is an interesting outlet. Many writers get their start in Young Voices competitions, so seeing the struggles that the two had to get their episode produced will appeal to young reporters….The Umbrella House will be a good choice for readers who enjoyed Dilloway’s Five Things About Ava Andrews, Giles’ Take Back the Block, Watson’s This Side of Home, or Broaddus’ Unfadeable.”

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The International Educator

The Umbrella House by Colleen Nelson is a wonderful new novel for middle graders to sink their teeth into. I really enjoyed reading this engaging story….Through the story, you get to know the lovely, diverse mix of eclectic residents….An enjoyable read that is well written.”

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Book Time 

“I loved the sounds of East Village: it seemed like a real neighbourhood where people look out for each and where shop local is a real thing. The characters were electric, their stories unique and there were lots of things going on.”

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Storytime With Stephanie

“An ode to community activism and the East Village in New York City (NYC), The Umbrella House by Colleen Nelson is a middle grade novel that will have readers thinking about what they can do to protect their own communities…At 218 pages, it’s the perfect length and a real gritty story that is relevant in more places than just NYC these days…It is a beautiful story that will engage readers and leave them yearning for a trip to NYC to see the Umbrella House for themselves. Also, a huge shout out to the incredible Peggy Collins for her BEAUTIFUL cover illustrations. The book simply pops.”

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Jill’s Book Blog

“I had never heard of The Umbrella House before reading this story. There was a brief note at the beginning of the book that explained the history of the building. It was an abandoned building that was made uninhabitable, but squatters still moved in. Eventually the squatters improved the building, making it habitable again, and turned it into a co-op building. It was so nice to learn about this through a middle school story. The story showed first hand why it’s important to save historical buildings that embody the personality of a neighbourhood. The Umbrella House is a fun and empowering story!”

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