Benji, the Bad Day, and Me

By Kirkus Reviews

Who wins in a competition for attention with a sibling with autism? It's not a "who," it's a "what": brotherly love. It seems the universe is conspiring against Sammy. He is fed up with trouble at school, a pizza shortage, a missed bus stop, and rain, and he gets home only to be ignored because Benji is having a bad day and has retreated to his box. Sammy reminisces about better times and blueberry smoothies, but when he starts crying over spilled milk, Benji leaves his cardboard sanctuary to snuggle his brother in a blue-blanket burrito, demonstrating that love is a never-fail remedy for bad days. Vibrant, full-color illustrations in acrylic and colored pencil, punctuated by his monochromatic memories, accompany the first-person narrative. On face-to-face wordless pages, Min lets readers see a woeful Sammy through the narrow window in Benji's box, ensuring Benji's agency. Giving order and structure to what can be an unpredictable world, the wooden inhabitants of Benji's block city march across the title page, scatter about the story, and finally line up in columns and rows on the back of the book jacket. Pla selects a common theme, the power of familial love to overcome adversity, and deftly moves the challenges of autism to a supporting detail rather than a distracting focus in this simple picture book. That Min depicts this family as people of color further broadens this story's inclusive reach. An ordinary story is given a spark of life by the inclusion of an empathetic little brother with autism.