Big Brother Dustin
written by Alden R. Carter
photographs by Dan Young
with Carol Carter

Alden R. Carter's Big Brother Dustin
photographs by Dan Young with Carol Carter

Children's book review by Steve Barancik

Ages 4-8

A photo-picture book about a new baby in a Down Syndrome family

This sweet, unusual book is driving me crazy. Is it fiction? Is it non-fiction? Somebody please tell me!

Fortunately, there's plenty here for me to enjoy despite my befuddlement. I'm going to call it a "bookumentary."

Dustin, though it is never stated, is a sweet young boy with Down Syndrome. We meet him on the day he finds out he's going to be getting a baby sister. Dustin can't wait to tell the world!

With just a few months left until the baby's arrival, Dustin's dad challenges him to come up with a name for his new sister.

Your mom and I can't think of the right one. Maybe you can.

Big brother Dustin takes the challenge to heart. He's such a big fan of the women in his life though, that it's their names he keeps suggesting. Everyone is flattered, naturally, but it's impressed upon Dustin that a new name is really what's called for.

Finally, Dustin comes through, combining his two grandmothers' names into MaryAnn. Dustin did what no one else managed to: come up with the perfect name!

Now here's the wonderfully confusing part: Big Brother Dustin is illustrated beautifully with photographs by Dan Young (with help from author Carter's wife Carol). Where we're used to watercolors supporting the text, we get instead beautifully composed photographs with very real looking people.

Is Dustin really Dustin? Were photos taken during the lead up to MaryAnn's birth, or are these re-enactments? How am I supposed to go to sleep without knowing this?

Well, clearly I need to start reading the acknowledgments before I start reading the book (or, at a minimum, before I start writing the review). Sweet Dustin really exists (his name is Dustin Apfel), and so I'm going to take it on faith (though I suspect I'm wrong) that that's really little MaryAnn he's taking such special care of.

Dustin with Mom and MaryAnn

And whether or not the photographs were taken during the story or afterwards, know that the expressions on the faces of the very real people photographed ("Nice moccasins, Grandpa Strohman!") are a huge part of what makes this book so heartfelt.

The last third or so of Big Brother Dustin is essentially a photo album of Dustin tending little sister MaryAnn.

And if indeed she really is his sister, it's clear she's a very fortunate one.

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