Bad things keep happening to fourth-grader Benny and his family. His best friend moved away, and he hasn’t been able to find a new one. His dad’s still recovering from a brain injury (was it Benny’s fault?) His mom tells him to focus on being kind to others, and with a new kindness program at school, Benny’s trying his best, but no one seems to notice. As things get worse, Benny worries his family will never be able to recover, and nothing will be the same again.
Benny is quite possibly the most lovable boy in literature. He strives to be a good brother both to his oldest brother Martin, who has a girlfriend for the first time. He takes care of his brother George, who has autism. He even struggles through an unrewarding friendship with a pushy boy in his class. Inspired by the story of the Indian in the Cupboard, Benny creates his own movie using Lego minifigures to tell the story of heroes who wake to find themselves trapped in the life of toys. As Benny’s heroes learn to face the challenges fate brings them, so he also finds the courage to brave life’s scary unknowns, including the terrifying experience of a parent who may never be the same.
Benny’s mom is incredible. In the midst of overwhelming circumstances, she teaches Benny to pursue kindness, but she remains real and frank herself about her own worries. In one scene in which Benny’s dad’s condition is still pretty dire, she confesses, “You don’t think you could ever, in a million years, handle it, and then it happens and you do. You just go one day at a time, and suddenly you realize, here I am. I’m handling it.” It’s moments like these that make the simple truths in this story so powerful and moving. This is a wonderful story about very simple things: love, community, and kindness.
Benny’s class studies the Zen short stories. He mentions one story and relates its lesson to what’s happening facing trials in his own life.
Benny flies over the handlebars of his bike and crash lands on the track. When his dad tries to help him up, they bonk heads. Later, his dad collapses with a brain injury. Benny blames himself.