HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Brothers Below Zero
Author: Tor Seidler
Illustrator: Peter McCarty
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers, reprinted in 2003
Language level: 3 (barely–a couple of euphemisms and one use of the Lord’s name in vain)
Reading level: Ages 10-13
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Seidler, Tor. Brothers Below Zero (published in 2002 by HarperCollins Publishers, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10019; republished in 2004 by Scholastic Inc., 557 Broadway, New York City, NY 10012). Tim and John Henry Tuttle are brothers, but while Tim is older, he is shorter, pudgier, less athletic, and not as good in academics as John Henry. Tim is somewhat jealous of his brother. However, their eccentric great-aunt Winifred teaches Tim to paint, and he finds that he has a special talent. Now John Henry is jealous of Tim and the attention that he is getting. On Christmas Eve, John Henry hatches a plan to undermine Tim’s newfound glory, and his sinister scheme succeeds beyond his expectations. What follows is a subzero adventure that will change both boys forever. The behavior of John Henry is despicable, but he does learn his lesson, asks forgiveness, and makes up with his brother.
The language is rather mild compared to a lot of modern childrens’ books. The word “butt” is used with reference to the backside a couple of times. We do not allow that word to be used that way in our house, but a lot of folks have no problem with it. Apparently “kick b—” is preferred by many to “kick a–,” although I have never been able to understand why because both seem equally vulgar to me. A couple of common euphemisms are found (“gosh” and “darn”), and John Henry does use the word “God” as an interjection while trying to save his brother. It is said that when the delivery boy brought groceries and was offered Aunt Winifred’s lemonade he would have preferred a beer, and Mr. and Mrs. Tuttle do drink wine in celebrating his birthday (at least the boys have milk).
There are a couple of what I consider strange references to religion. The Tuttles are apparently Unitarian. When Aunt Winifred dies and the minister at the funeral says some comforting words about her smiling down on them from heaven, it is said that Mr. Tuttle, who is a scientist, “firmly believed that people live on after death only in the genes they pass down to their children.” However, after his two sons’ ordeal in the freezing wilderness, “he felt a strange doubt in his lifelong belief in genes.” The ALA Booklist said of the author, whose works include “contemporary classics” (is that an oxymoron?) like The Wainscott Weasel and Mean Margaret, which was a National Book Award finalist, that he “writes in the great tradition of Kenneth Grahame, Walter R. Brooks, and E. B. White.” Well, I would not necessarily go that far! However, this is not too bad of a book. It illustrates some important lessons and does have a happy ending, although I think it could also be useful in giving some insights into lives that are not illuminated with the truth of God’s word.