First of all, isn't this an eye-catching cover? It really makes you stop in your tracks and stifle a little giggle. I love it.
Rules by Cynthia Lord is a middle grade novel that deals with autism in a very real way. Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a life that doesn't totally revolve around her little brother David's autism. Told in her voice, you immediately become sympathetic to her role in the family. One of the strengths of Rules is that you sense Catherine's conflicting emotions. You never doubt that she loves her little brother, but because so much of the family dynamics are taken up with his disability, she sometimes just wishes he were "normal."
In order to help David cope better in the world, Catherine comes up with a set of rules. In fact each chapter starts off with a rule: "Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you," and "If it's too loud, cover your ears or ask the other person to be quiet," and "If the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over)!" and "No toys in the fish tank." These rules are Catherine's way of keeping the situation under control.
There are two other influences in her life. The first is Kristi, her new neighbor that she desperately wants as a friend, but is unsure how she will react to David. The second is a boy in a wheelchair she meets at one of her brother's therapy appointments. Jason can't talk, so he has a book of cards with pictures and words that he points to in order to communicate. The evolution of their friendship is interesting to watch, and it is not without some painful moments.
Finally, one of my favorite touches in the book is how David quotes from Arnold Lobel's Frog and Toad books when he can't come up with his own words.
Rules is an important book. With the rate of autism skyrocketing, children are more exposed to autistic kids. Whether it is a sibling, a classmate or just someone in the grocery store, Rules can help open up the conversation about autism. It's also funny and touching, with many heart-warming moments throughout. It's a relatively quick read and would make a good read aloud book.
BookNosher Tidbits: Rules has won a lot of awards, including:
Newbery Honor Medal
Schneider Family Book Award
Mitten Award (Michigan Library Association)
Great Lakes Great Books Award (Michigan)
Maine Student Book Award
Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (Vermont)
Kentucky Bluegrass Award
Great Stone Face Award (New Hampshire)
Buckeye Children's Book Award (Ohio)
BookNosher Activities: If you go to Cynthia Lord's website, she has lots of links to websites dealing with autism, as well as materials for teachers and librarians (discussion guides, interviews etc.).