My Brother Ben
By Peter Carnavas
Reviewed by Mia Macrossan
The latest book by award winning Peter Carnavas is a touching story of two brothers set in an area north of Brisbane, around Cabbage Tree Creek and inspired by Peter’s memories of growing up near Currimundi Lake. Peter is the author of The Elephant which won a Queensland Literary Award as well as many picture books.
Ten year old Luke and his older brother Ben, twelve, spend lots of time near the creek. Luke sketches birds while Ben leaps and jumps around. They are very different but united in their one dream of winning a boat so that they can explore the creek further. They laugh and joke and insult each other in a way that captures the unspoken affection between them.
But this year is different, Ben has moved up to high school and Luke has to fend for himself at the primary school. Ben gets a new friend and Luke feels a bit left out. His aunt has given him a guide to birds, and he finds he is good at spotting them and remembering their names. After his dad left home he spends a lot of time checking out all the birds in the area and this gives him an idea for their competition entry.
Will Luke and Ben win a boat for themselves and if so will they still want to use it to have adventures together? Apart from being a carefully constructed story about moving on and growing up this is a delightful way to find out about all the many birds that inhabit this beautiful part of our world. Peter has drawn many and they are all pictured on the endpapers. I do wish all the birds mentioned in the book had been listed at the back.
Peter writes sensitively about Luke’s mixed emotions as he watches his mother cope with being single, with Ben changing and his own inner turmoils. Luke thinks Ben is like a magnificent wedge-tailed eagle and he himself is ‘nothing special…something small and plain, like a brown thornbill’ p 54, but he is a carefully crafted complex character. Each short chapter (ideal for reading out to a class) written in Peter’s characteristic restrained and understated style builds into a rich and satisfying story about brothers, boys, birds and growing up.