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Brothers Below Zero

Brothers Below Zero

3.7 4
by Tor Seidler

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Tim Tuttle can't hold a candle to John Henry -- not in school, not in sports, not in anything. To make matters worse, John Henry is his younger brother. However, Tim has a wonderful refuge: his friendship with his eccentric great-aunt Winifred. And when his great-aunt teaches him to paint, Tim discovers a world all his own.

Tim's newfound talent


Tim Tuttle can't hold a candle to John Henry -- not in school, not in sports, not in anything. To make matters worse, John Henry is his younger brother. However, Tim has a wonderful refuge: his friendship with his eccentric great-aunt Winifred. And when his great-aunt teaches him to paint, Tim discovers a world all his own.

Tim's newfound talent delights his parents, but it doesn't sit well with John Henry. Until one snowy Christmas Eve, when he hits upon the perfect plan to undermine Tim's glory. John Henry's sinister scheme succeeds beyond his wildest expectations and leads to a harrowing subzero adventure that changes both boys forever.

Gripping and moving, Brothers Below Zero demonstrates that Tor Seidler is one of the strongest voices writing today.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
A seventh grader is outshone by his younger brother at everything until he finds an unrecognized talent, which his brother ruins-leading him to run away into the frigid Vermont countryside. Ages 8-12. (Feb.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Tim's younger brother, John Henry, is smart, athletic, and handsome, while Tim is pudgy, a poor student, and an even worse athlete. Only with his eccentric Great-aunt Winifred does Tim feel good about himself as the two spend their days painting. When she dies, the boy no longer has a place of refuge, and even though his parents are proud of his artistic talent, he still feels lost and alone. He decides to paint everyone a picture for Christmas, but John Henry is jealous of the attention his brother is receiving and sabotages his portrait of their parents. They are angry about what they see and blame Tim, who runs away in the middle of a blizzard to the only place where he has truly felt safe and appreciated, Aunt Winifred's empty house. Sibling rivalry and its repercussions make this book one that middle-school readers will identify with as the two boys finally discover how much they really care about one another. The characters' actions are typical of adolescent behavior and are therefore both maddening and appealing. The plot moves at a good pace as readers feel Tim's anguish and John Henry's gloating. This is a solid read that blends family dynamics and intense action in its exciting, satisfying climax.-Janet Hilbun, formerly at Sam Houston Middle School, Garland, TX Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Seidler takes on an age-old story line-jealousy and competition between two dissimilar brothers-and spins it into a survival story with a soft mystical edge. Tim Tuttle, the gentle hero of the novel, is constantly outshone by his younger brother John Henry. In fact, Tim confesses to his Great-aunt Winifred, an eccentric but wise oldster who speaks almost entirely in folksy sayings, John Henry is just naturally "better at everything." The situation reverses when Tim takes up painting and turns out to have a genuine gift. John Henry is consumed with resentment, so much so that he plays a mean trick on his brother, defacing a portrait Tim painted and then blaming him. Upset because his parents don't believe his denials and furious that his multitalented brother would "ruin the one thing Tim was good at," the young artist jumps out his window and into the icy snow below, sustaining a concussion in the process. Here, the story changes gears, going from a low-key family drama to a middling children-in-jeopardy story, as first a dazed Tim, then Tim and John Henry, struggle to stay alive in the freezing cold. The slender novel can't sustain all the ideas it takes on, and the focus on the parents detracts from the main plot at the end. Still, every child with a brother or sister will be able to relate to the core situation, perhaps learning that comparing oneself to others is as "useless as two tails on a dog" in the process. (Fiction. 8-12)

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
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File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
6 - 10 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Dr. Tuttle took a break halfway through his pork chop. It was awfully tough.

“Glad to be out of the salt mines for a few days, boys?” he asked, setting his fork down.

“Yeah,” said John Henry.

Tim just nodded, afraid his father was about to bring up first-term report cards. It was the Friday before Christmas.

“What did you do all day, sing carols?” Dr. Tuttle asked.

“We sang ‘Jingle Bells' in assembly,” Tim said.

“We had a scrimmage this afternoon,” John Henry said. “Last one of the season. It was cool.”

“It must have been,” said Mrs. Tuttle. “The high for the day was ten degrees.”

“Aw, you don't notice that when you're playing, Mom. Do you, Timmy?”

Tim grunted. His fingers had been numb the whole scrimmage, but it hadn't really mattered, since he'd never gotten near the ball -- even though John Henry had thrown over and over to the boy he was meant to be covering. “Trying to make your kid brother look good?” the coach had said when he finally took Tim out. Tim was in seventh grade at Burlington Middle School, John Henry in sixth.

“Me and Spider . . . I mean, Spider and I connected for four TDs,” John Henry said. “Should have been five. The last one hit him right in the breadbasket and he dropped it -- didn't he, Timmy?”

Tim mumbled unintelligibly, his mouth being full of roll.

“You missed it? Yeah, I guess you were on your butt.” John Henry grinned at his mother. “Spider faked him out of his shorts.”

“Shorts, on a day like this?” she said. “That seems awfully spartan.”

“It's just an expression, Mom. It means he made Tim look like a dork.”

The rolls were on thestale side, but Tim had lubricated his with enough butter to get it down. “The field was icy,” he muttered. “And my glasses fogged up.”

Luckily, ice reminded Mrs. Tuttle of a pipe that had burst that morning in the storage room of the Burlington Art Museum, where she volunteered as a tour guide.

“Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys got soaked,” she said.

“How ignominious,” said Dr. Tuttle. “They outfox the British army for the whole Revolutionary War, only to be laid low by a burst pipe.”

“I imagine they'll survive,” Mrs. Tuttle said. “They're in bronze.”

“Ah, a sculpture. I was thinking you meant the painting.”

“No such luck. That's up in the main gallery. Every time I have to call it ‘a masterpiece of American historical painting,' the words stick in my throat.”

“Is it as bad as one of Aunt Winnie's Views?” John Henry asked, smirking.

“Aunt Winnie's paintings are beautiful!” Tim cried.

“It's not a fair comparison,” said Mrs. Tuttle. “Winifred doesn't pretend to be a real painter.”

“But she is a real painter,” Tim said.

“I'm very fond of her Views,” said Dr. Tuttle.

For Christmas and his birthday Dr. Tuttle always received one of his aunt's small oil paintings of the view of the Green Mountains from her house. Winifred wasn't his real aunt, only his aunt by marriage. Long ago, during World War II, she'd married his uncle, but soon afterward his uncle had been shot down in the Pacific, leaving her a widow. Mrs. Tuttle considered her paintings “amateurish,” so Dr. Tuttle always took them to hang in his lab at the university.

“Don't you like the chop, Trev?” Mrs. Tuttle asked.

“Very flavorful,” Dr. Tuttle said, preparing for a second assault.

But John Henry rescued him by slipping an envelope from his back pocket and sliding it toward him. Tim felt the opposite of rescued as he watched his father set down his knife and fork and pull out John Henry's report card.

“Uh-oh,” Dr. Tuttle said.

“What is it, dear?” said Mrs. Tuttle.

“Somebody we know got an A minus in arithmetic.” He spoke gravely. “What do you suppose could have happened?”

“I missed a quiz the week you took us to Baltimore for your conference!” John Henry cried. “It still counts as straight As, doesn't it?”

“Of course it does, lambie,” Mrs. Tuttle said. “Your father's just pulling your leg. Where's yours, Tim?”

“You always say bringing reading material to the dinner table isn't polite,” Tim said.

“Report cards are an exception, dear.”

“I dropped it on the bus and somebody stepped on it. I think it got smudged.”

“Well, we'll do our best to decipher it.”

“To tell you the truth, Mom, I'm not sure where I left it.”

“I think you went straight up to your room when we got home,” John Henry said helpfully.

“Shall I come up and help you look?” Mrs. Tuttle offered.

“Um . . . no, that's okay,” Tim said, pushing his chair back slowly from the dinner table.

He trudged upstairs to his room and groped under his mattress, where he'd stashed his report card in hopes that one of his great-aunt Winifred's sayings -- “Out of sight, out of mind” -- would hold true. In his opinion it was a nasty trick to hand out report cards right before Christmas, which was supposed to be the season of joy and glad tidings and ho, ho, hos.

He walked back downstairs in slow motion, hoping his peas might at least get cold enough for him to use that as an excuse for not eating them.

“Let's see it, sweetie,” Mrs. Tuttle said as he shuffled into the dining room.

Brothers Below Zero. Copyright © by Tor Seidler. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Born in Littleton, New Hampshire, Tor Seidler grew up in Vermont and later, Seattle, Washington, in both of which places his parents were involved in the theater. Encouraged by his family's love of the arts, Mr. Seidler studied English literature at Stanford University, and at the age of twenty-seven his first book, The Dulcimer Boy, was published, launching his celebrated career as a writer.

Over the past twenty years, Mr. Seidler has become one of the most important voices in children's fiction with such classics as, A Rat's Tale, The Wainscott Weasel, an ALA Notable Book, Terpin, and Mean Margaret, which was selected as a finalist for the National Book Award in 1997. He currently lives in New York City.

Peter McCarty has written and illustrated several acclaimed books for children, including Chloe, which received four starred reviews, and Henry in Love, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year. He is also the author and illustrator of Hondo & Fabian, a Caldecott Honor Book and New York Times Best Illustrated Book of the Year, and its sequel, Fabian Escapes; T Is for Terrible; Little Bunny on the Move; and Moon Plane, a Charlotte Zolotow Award winner. Peter lives with his wife and their two children in Clinton Corners, New York, where they get lots of snow.

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Brothers Below Zero 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Brothers Below Zero is a great book! It is very suspenseful and has an interesting storyline. The story takes place in a small countryside three miles east of Burlington, Vermont. It is set in present time. It is about a boy named Tim who has a younger brother named John Henry. John Henry does everything better than Tim, even though he¿s younger. He plays football better and gets better grades along with many other things. The two brothers have a great aunt named Aunt Winnie. Tim loves Aunt Winnie very much. Tim always goes over to her house and she bakes cookies for him. He also watches her paint, which is her favorite thing to do. Then on Christmas, Aunt Winnie decides to start giving Tim painting lessons. Tim is really happy, and can¿t wait to start. It turns out that Tim is a natural at painting and catches on very quickly. This is the only thing that he does better than John Henry and John Henry isn¿t very happy about it. Then one day Tim goes to Aunt Winnie¿s house for a lesson, but she¿s dead. Tim is very, very sad. Next Christmas Tim painted a portrait of his parents that was really good. John Henry saw it and didn¿t want his parents to like it because it would make him jealous, so the night before Christmas he secretly ruined the painting. When his parents opened the present, they saw a mustache on the mom and a big wart on the dad. They were not happy and thought Tim did it and got mad at him. Tim knew he didn¿t do it, so he decided to run away. Since it was winter it was close to zero degrees. Tim wandered around in the cold trying to get to Aunt Winnie¿s house, but he eventually collapsed from the cold. His parents couldn¿t find him and were very worried. John Henry felt really bad so he set out for Aunt Winnie¿s house to find Tim. He found him, but then got too cold himself and collapsed. Finally, their parents found them with the help of a police helicopter. They said that a miracle had happened. The only way that they had found them was because a giant face of Aunt Winnie was imprinted in the snow around the two boys. The two brothers eventually got better and went home from the hospital. John Henry apologized for ruining the painting. Then their lives went on as usual. I recommend this book to young teens because it is about people around this age who can relate to their problems and to people who like a good suspenseful story about families.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In a reversal of the usual sibling rivalry between brothers, John Henry, the younger brother, seems better at most things than his older brother Tim. The painful feelings this causes are the subject of the story, and the boys' parents don't do much to help them through this problem. Tim's love for his Aunt and her teaching him to paint (landscapes) are high points of the story. Other plot turnings don't ring as true. Most dissatisfying to me was the lack of character depth in the parents and the improbability of some of the action, such as the installing of a forty-one post split rail fence by the boys (aged 12 and 13?) in less than a single day. Also improbable is the strange denouement involving the 'accident' of the Aunt's portrait traipsed in the snow by the injured Tim. I found it an unsatisfying story.