April is jam-packed with themes and recognition days: Poetry Month, School Library Month, Volunteer Appreciation Month, Autism Awareness Month, not to mention WORLD HEALTH DAY, EARTH DAY, and ARBOR DAY! It takes a unique and powerful voice to stand out from among so many important themes and causes, but Benjamin Giroux has such a voice.
If you click the many links above, including Benjamin's name, you'll be gone for a while. Stick with me and do that at the end, okay?)
|Schiffer Kids, 2021|
In response to a fifth grade writing assignment, Benjamin poured his innermost thoughts onto the page in the very text that later became this book.He thought it wasn't good enough despite his parents' praise. Perhaps that feeling reflected his lifelong experience of others indicating that he, as an individual on the autism spectrum, was not "good enough".
Using social media, his parents shared the poem exactly as he wrote it, and you can read a replica of his original work on the endpapers of this book. His words were embraced, globally, and many who read or heard them recognized themselves in his writing. Not so much because they, too, are on the autism spectrum, but because they feel "other", not able to fit in with a presumed "normal" or sameness. Benjamin's poem shares his feelings of isolation, but also his hopes that differences might one day be celebrated rather than disdained.
His poem not only became the text for this picture book, with an introduction by the National Autism Association, citing Temple Grandin's advocacy for not just acceptance but appeciation of individual differences. His poem became the lyrics for songs, has been featured in videos. A saying of the NAA suits this poem, book, story, boy, and voice well:
"No one has ever made a difference in the world
by being the same."
The illustrations allow readers to empathize and connect, while revealing the diversity among the population surrounding Benjamin. With comic-style simplicity and a deft use of blue/gray tones versus vibrant colors, the hopes and possibilities of full participation, satisfaction, and success for EVERYONE carries readers to a satisfying conclusion. Widening our circles of social acceptance is not just good for Benjamin but for each and all of us.
The symbolic flying paper airplanes might make skeptics call such a goal "pie in the sky". The truth is easy to recognize, though, through this simple picture book and the direct impact it can have on readers of any age. There are plenty of picture books that engage differences and specifically autism, but this is the best one to use to launch discussions that will move us toward that better future.