Saturday, July 2, 2022

Local poet laureate writes about self-love

Serena Ganesan

Being autistic, Benjamin Giroux has always felt different. In a world where conformity is rewarded and differences are disregarded, it was hard for Giroux in school. When he was 10 years old, he wrote his first ever poem for an assignment about how he felt odd among his peers. However, he felt that his poem was not good enough. So, with his permission, his father Sonny decided to upload it online to receive feedback.

The poem went viral and was shared by the National Autism Association. It was translated into more than 21 languages, used as song lyrics and resonated with anyone who exists outside of the “norm”. Giroux was interviewed by “The Today Show” and the Huffington Post. He even had his poem shared by the author, Anne Rice. He was named as the local Poet Laureate by the City of Plattsburgh and Beekmantown Central School District.

“I didn’t know what to think when it went viral. It was very weird that something I wrote for school was being read all over the world,” Giroux said about his initial reaction after the poem went viral. “I was getting messages from people in Australia, all over Europe, Indonesia, everywhere. I hope kids can learn that they are not alone in feeling like they don’t fit in. We are all different and that makes us unique and that’s what makes us all special.” 

The poem was picked by Schiffer Publishing and published as an illustrated book. It took them around two years to find their illustrator, Roz MacLean. The book was officially released on Oct. 26th and Giroux became one of the youngest authors to receive the esteemed Kirkus Review Star.

Giroux was also involved in the illustration process. 

“It was my idea to make all the airplanes different and to make mine a different color,” he said. When it came to the cover I suggested putting the airplanes reflecting in the character’s glasses.”

Giroux’s father has been a rock for him throughout the entire journey. His parents had countless meetings with teachers, principals and parents as a result of kids at school bullying him. Both of his parents clearly explained that other kids were mean to him as they felt bad about themselves and channeled those emotions onto Giroux. 

When he read his son’s poem, he was elated at his poetic talent but also sad that his son felt isolated and lonely. 

“We had such mixed feelings. Honestly reading it the first time my wife and I were so impressed at how amazing it was. His choice of words, the rhyming, even the cadence of each line,” Sonny Giroux said. “Then we read it again and realized what it was he was saying and we were heartbroken. Our 10 year old just wrote down that he felt odd, and that he cried when he was laughed at and how he didn’t feel like he belonged. How else could a parent feel?”

However, he also noted the inspirational message in the poem.

“Then you see the positive in the poem when Ben realizes that we are all different and that’s what makes everyone special,” Sonny Giroux said. “It’s pretty impressive that a 10-year-old could understand that when a lot of adults still don’t.” 

Currently a junior in high school, Giroux has written two more books that are about his pet Corn Snake, Monty, and dealing with body shaming, self-love and feeling different. He hopes that after reading “I Am Odd, I Am New”, kids learn that they are not alone in feeling like they don’t fit in, and that they realize that everyone is different and that’s what makes each individual unique and special.

“I Am Odd, I am New” will be officially released on Nov. 16, 2021. There will be a book signing at Booksburgh Books, Champlain Centre Saturday, November 13th from 1 p.m. – 3p.m.

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