CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 7. . . .October 15, 2010.
Book of Big Brothers.
Cary Fagan. Illustrated by Luc Melanson.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2010.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
Preschool-grade 2 / Ages 4-7.
Review by Linda Ludke.
When I was in the first grade, three sisters named Martha, Annie and Fran started to pick on me. They called me “Short Pants” and “Mop Head”. They picked up rotten pears and threw them at me. When I started to run, they chased me.
One day my brothers were waiting. They leapt out from behind the bushes, howling at the top of their lungs.
The sisters ran away. They never chased me again.
Martha gave me a card on Valentine’s Day.
The pleasures and pitfalls of being the youngest of three brothers are drolly recounted in Book of Big Brothers. The narrator’s conversational tone makes you feel like you are looking through a family album: “This is me when I was one week old. My brothers were waiting eagerly on the porch when my parents brought me home from the hospital. They argued over who got to hold me first … They dropped me.”
Throughout the narrator’s childhood, his big brothers were always there for him: protecting him from the wrath of mean girls, burying a pet lizard when he accidentally stepped on it, and entertaining him with an impromptu play when he had the measles. He also remembers that “things weren’t always good between us.” His older, albeit not always wiser, brothers sometimes lead him astray. He tagged along when they put firecrackers in a hollow tree. The resulting fire scared him straight: “I got punished too, but I didn’t complain. I was glad they didn’t put us in jail!” When the trio played football inside the house, they knocked over a porcelain figurine. After squabbling over who was responsible, they conspired to glue the arm back on (“We never said a word to our mom and dad. So please don’t tell them”).
Luc Melanson’s digital cartoons have loads of retro appeal. Just like the anecdotal text, the illustrations resemble candid photographs. The boys careen around the neighbourhood on banana- seat bicycles, dress up in homemade pirate hats and pitch tents in the backyard. With his freckled-face, toothy grin and prominent cowlick, the narrator looks like Alfalfa from The Little Rascals.
Linda Ludke is a librarian in London, ON.
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