My Brother, Matthew

Dec 5, 2003
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:illustrations visualize the expressions and mood effectively

Cons:the actual disability is never mentioned in the book

The Bottom Line: This is well suited to teach children about compassion and helps other siblings who have a disabled member in their family by sharing the range of the brotherís feelings.

Without really knowing if autism was profiled in My Brother, Matthew I knew immediately I wanted this book because my non-verbal son is named Matthew as well. I have been obtaining books over the past few years that are geared to children and share from the perspective of a sibling who has either a brother or sister with a disability. Although both my sons are autistic, my eight- year old is considered high functioning and main streamed at school.

One of the characteristics of autism is literal thinking, which my older son exhibits and often coupled with his current obsessive compulsive symptoms, otherwise known as OCD, made the story My Brother, Matthew a challenge to show similarities to our family makeup. The story is written and illustrated by botanical illustrator Mary Thompson, whom has four children, one having disabilities. It was not clear to me as the reader if the book, My Brother, Matthew was based on their family.

My Brother, Matthew is written from the perspective of older brother David, in his voice starting from the day his brother was born. David knows everything about his brother, but he does get frustrated at times when he walks slower or talks funny. Matthew was born with disabilities that required him to remain in the hospital with tubes and wires connected to machines. The parents were at the hospital all the time leaving David with his grandmother to do puzzles. He was not happy being in the dark about his brother and it all materialized for him when he was allowed to view his brother through the window. This was a confusing time for David because no one had any answers to why his brother could not eat or breathe the way other babies could.

When David’s birthday arrived, Matthew was still in the hospital and it seemed he would be stuck with Grandma again since no one was remembering his birthday. The grandmother had moved in to help out during this time. This was also the day his brother took a turn for the worse, but later in the day he was better so his parents came home, although too late for a birthday party. Another day David’s parents informed him of the special name they chose for his sibling, Matthew.

After what seemed a very long time Matthew and his Mom came home and David assumed they would be a normal family. At this time his Mother explained to him how Matthew would need extra care still and therapists started coming to their home. David had to stay in his own area playing while his brother Matthew got all these new toys. During these sessions David felt neglected and isolated as all his Mother’s time was devoted to caring for David with special music tapes and equipment. David would retreat to his room and close the door. Then they explored swimming lessons and David was included.

Since swimming was much fun with his brother at home David starting interacting more with Matthew. When Matthew laughed David knew his brother was just like him and he was happy to see and hear Matthew laugh for the first time. It seems this was a turning point for David. His mother decided he could help with Matthew’s therapy program.

When they started his Mother told him to slow down with Matthew because he might scare him. Then David remembered a suggestion his Grandmother had made before she left; reading books to Matthew would be a way to spend quality time together. David learned to choose bedtime stories, which would enable Matthew to fall asleep on his lap.

Within the pages of My Brother, Matthew it looks like the boys are two to three years apart since they are older and close in size. The book jumps in time quite a bit from Matthew being just a baby to an elementary school aged child. I am not sure how effective it is to gloss over so much time, but the illustrations are very engaging. The boys have light skin with blonde hair and for many of the pages are wearing the same clothing.

David says it is not always easy when he plays with Matthew because he breaks his creations, but all his parents noticed were the toys Matthew would build. Matthew liked to copy everything that David was doing. His Mother tries to encourage David by telling him his brother likes to copy him because he thinks he is the greatest person in the world.

David reveals that when he was younger he used all his birthday wishes hoping his brother would be like other kids and learn to walk. In time David did come to learn that his brother has disabilities and will always need extra care and support. David was ecstatic when Matthew did learn to walk and now has dreams of them riding bikes together one day.

My Brother, Matthew shows the impact a disabled child has on the other sibling in the family and follows along with the development of their relationship. Instead of instant bonding one would find in a movie of the week, the gradual process is believable by going through the process of loneliness, jealousy, frustration and acceptance.

My eight-year old son was not as interested in My Brother, Matthew as other books that portray an autistic child similar in nature to his own brother Matthew. As mentioned earlier he takes the written word literally and visually could not relate to the story because there were two parents along with a grandparent and his brother was not disabled from birth. I did use the story line from the Hospital reminding him of the times his brother was in the hospital, but as he stated we were all there together as a family.

I would highly recommend My Brother, Matthew to teachers and therapists as well as families that have a child or children with disabilities. This would help the sibling in any situation to know how other children handled being a sibling and reassurance that their feelings are not unique or wrong to express.

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