Sammy is having a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day. He’s been in trouble at school, the cafeteria ran out of pizza for lunch, and he had to walk home in the rain. When he gets home, he discovers that Benji, his little brother who has autism, is having a bad day, too: but a bad day for Benji is totally different. Benji has a special hiding place and a block city set up, and Mom even wraps Benji up “like a burrito” in a special blanket when he’s having a bad day. When Sammy has a bad day, no one seems to notice – or so he thinks. Because Benji does notice, and in a touching moment of sibling affection, gets out his blanket and leads Sammy to it. Because Sammy his his little burrito.
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me will resonate with anyone who loves Judith Viorst’s classic, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day; Sammy’s frustrated narrative is so close to Alexander’s, readers may wonder if Sammy’s about to pack it all in and head for Australia. Sally J. Pla is wonderful at using this narrative device to introduce readers to a story about siblings and the challenges of being a sibling to a child with autism. Sometimes, it may feel like one’s feelings get lost, or no one’s paying attention, but Sally Pla and illustrator Ken Min show readers that family will always be there for you. The story is inspired by the author’s experiences of “sibling rivalry and neurodiversity, all wrapped in a big blue blanket”. Ken Min‘s acrylic and colored pencil artwork uses digital enhancements to give us a warm household; Benji’s isolation shows in the cool blue color depicted inside his box fort; a color repeated in Sammy’s recollection of Benji’s appointments with his occupational therapist, who Sammy refers to as “Super-Happy Lady”. As Benji gazes out at Sammy, reduced to tears when he hits his final straw, the shadow falls across Benji’s face, warming up his eyes and nose as he gazes out at his brother. Sammy and his family appear tan-skinned, with dark brown hair.
Benji, the Bad Day, and Me has a starred review from Shelf Awareness and is a solid add to your collections. It is a strong book to suggest when explaining neurodiversity, autism acceptance, and exploring sibling relationships. As author Sally J Pla notes on her website, “I once heard someone describe autism as “not a spectrum, so much as a constellation.” I love that. We are all stars shining with different lights.”