Rules for living

February 5, 2010 at 11:57 am

Rules by Cynthia Lord; published by Scholastic, New York, 2006.

Twelve year old Catherine keeps a list of rules for living.  Some are for her, some are for her 8 year old brother, David.  “If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over” is one of David’s simple rules.  He also has some harder rules, like “Sometimes people laugh when they like you.  But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.”  Catherine’s rules include “Not everything worth keeping has to be useful” and “No dancing unless I’m alone in my room or it’s pitch-black dark.”  Why so many rules?  It is Catherine’s way of dealing with things she can’t control.  Things like the predictable meltdowns of an autistic brother, or the self-conscious struggles every tween faces.  Catherine longs for a friend to talk to, to share frustrations and successes with.  Her hopes are high when the house next door is sold to a family with a daughter her own age.  But Kristi may not be the friend Catherine had hoped for.  Could Jason fill that need for friendship?  But how can he, when he is in a wheelchair and cannot speak?  Catherine finds her voice, speaking up to her parents for equal attention from them, and helps Jason find his, by using her artistic talents to add words to his communication book.  And together, Catherine and Jason find friendship.

As the mother of a boy on the autism spectrum, and a daughter who isn’t, this book hit a resonant chord with me.  Reading the book brought tears and laughter as I related our similar experiences.  When I closed the book after reading the last words, I wanted to call every teacher I know, every teacher the kids ever had, and make them all vow to read this book and include it in their required reading lists.

Wow, Lord nailed my mantra when she wrote this book; I’ll paraphrase a line from the book to express it best: Everyone has a place.  The lessons in acceptance, diversity, and overcoming prejudice are subtly taught in Catherine’s actions and choices.  When elementary school students are working on their citizenship skills, this book should be mandatory reading.  Middle schoolers, with their hormone-induced posturing, should have to read this book.  Teachers, whose actions teach more profoundly than their words, should have to read this book.

That being said, there are other reasons to read Rules. The paperback copy I read includes a section at the end of the book called “After Words.”  Included are an interview with the author, activities, and a bibliography of books about siblings dealing with autistic and special needs brothers and sisters.  The teachable moments continue even after the story is done!

This book is next month’s selection for the middle school book club I participate in.  I can’t wait to see what they have to say about the book!  I’ll be sure to let you know! 🙂


Entry filed under: ALSC Notable Winner, Newbery Award or Honor Book, Ohio Buckeye Book Award Winner or Nominee. Tags: , , , , , , .

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