Lord, Cynthia. 2006. Rules. New York, NY: Scholastic Press. ISBN0-439-44382-2
Twelve year old Catherine is destined to spend another lonely summer without her best friend but has high hopes that the girl moving in next door might fill the void – if Catherine can keep her little brother David from ruining things. David has autism and Catherine is often too preoccupied with what people are thinking about him to give much effort towards making friends. Fortunately, Catherine is able to become friends with her neighbor and also with a boy from David’s occupational therapy clinic. These new friendships end up teaching Catherine valuable lessons in true friendship and acceptance.
This touching story provides insight into the world of physical and mental challenges. First, we learn from David who has autism. His autism causes him to have extra sensitive hearing and David seems to relate to the world best through a system of rules. While he does not necessarily live by the rules, they do help him communicate with the world around him (David drops toys in the fish tank then goes to his sister and quotes the “no toys in the fish tank” rule so she’ll get the toy back out). He also quotes passages from his favorite story of Frog and Toad to help him relate to and communicate within the current situation.
We also learn from Jason, a young man in a wheelchair who communicates by pointing to simple words and phrases. From Jason we learn that while dreaming he can walk is normal, it is important to be realistic when awake. The disability or challenge can’t be ignored. It is a part of who he is and it is nothing to be embarrassed about.
Finally, we learn from Catherine, David’s older sister, Jason’s new friend, and the main character of the book. From Catherine, we learn that being related to someone with challenges does not always make you an expert on how to relate to them. We also learn that this relation can mean that your needs will be neglected at times and is often hard to deal with. Ultimately, this is a wonderful book exploring this sensitive topic with respect and authenticity.
From Deborah Stevenson, Associate Editor (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, May 2006 (Vol. 59, No. 9))
Catherine loves her little brother, David, who’s autistic, but his presence and his burden on the family can become exhausting. She’s hoping to be friends with Kristi, the sleek new girl next door, but she’s afraid David’s weirdness will spoil the girls’ nascent relationship. She’s also falling into a friendship with a boy her age who attends occupational therapy at the same place David does; Jason lacks the motor control to walk or to speak intelligibly, so he communicates through a word board, and Catherine has been illustrating his word cards and adding entries. It soon becomes clear that Jason wants to be more than just ‘clinic friends’ with Catherine, but Catherine, with her hypersensitivity to public scorn from her experiences with David, isn’t sure she can face Kristi with Jason as her date. The book deftly manages to interweave its elements without heavy-handed contrivance; it’s perfectly believable that Catherine would get familiar with other OT clients and that she’d get interested in the notion of a word board, so her relationship with Jason seems like something that would actually happen rather than a contrived opportunity for her education. Readers will sympathize with Catherine’s struggle to explain the world to David through his beloved rules and her frustration at his demanding, embarrassing behaviors and his garnering the majority of parental attention. Jason’s expressive limitations will provide considerable food for thought (and maybe even some language arts assignments), with readers considering what words they would require and what words they’d be likely to get if adults were their sole source (Catherine steps up Jason’s expressive attitude, albeit in a very G-rated way, with more rebellious and sarcastic utterances such as ‘Why not?’ ‘Whatever!’, and ‘Yeah, right’). This is an absorbing tale about valuing people even when it’s difficult, and it may encourage readers to consider the benefits and challenges of their own families and friends. (Reviewed from galleys) Review Code: R -- Recommended. (c) Copyright 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois. 2006, Scholastic, 208p, $15.99. Grades 5-8.
From Joan Kindig, Ph.D. (Children's Literature)
Growing up with an autistic younger brother is not easy and it seems far harder when the pre-teen years hit. Catherine feels as though David’s needs far overshadow her own in the family but the embarrassment his behavior causes her is the worst of it. Nevertheless, Catherine understands what David’s world is like and when she snaps at him, she is beset by guilt. It is this sensitivity that allows her to befriend a boy her age with severe communication problems who is wheelchair-bound. Gaining a stronger sense of herself and demanding what she needs as a member of the family allows her to move beyond embarrassment into acceptance. This is a story that depicts the impact of a needy child on an entire family very realistically. One of the treats in this book is that David echoes words rather than generating his own and he frequently speaks in lines he remembers from Arnold Lobel’s Frog & Toad. 2006, Scholastic, $15.99. Ages 9 to 12.
From Cindy Dobrez (Booklist, Feb. 15, 2006 (Vol. 102, No. 12))
No toys in the fish tank" is one of many rules that 12-year-old Catherine shares with her autistic younger brother, David, to help him understand his world. Lots of the rules are practical. Others are more subtle and shed light on issues in Catherine's own life. Torn between love for her brother and impatience with the responsibilities and embarrassment he brings, she strives to be on her parents' radar and to establish an identity of her own. At her brother's clinic, Catherine befriends a wheelchair-bound boy, Jason, who talks by pointing at word cards in a communication notebook. Her drawing skills and additional vocabulary cards--including "whatever" (which prompts Jason to roll his eyes at his mother)--enliven his speech. The details of autistic behavior are handled well, as are depictions of relationships: Catherine experiences some of the same unease with Jason that others do in the presence of her brother. In the end, Jason helps Catherine see that her rules may really be excuses, opening the way for her to look at things differently. A heartwarming first novel. Category: Books for Middle Readers--Fiction. 2006, Scholastic, $15.99. Gr. 4-7.
In addition to helping readers better relate to people with certain challenges, this book can also be used in art as the main character discusses color, perspective, and other artistic elements. The rules Catherine gives to David could also be used as a prompt in a readers response journal – how the rule can apply to situations other than it’s original intent and/or writing other rules for life not listed in the book. Finally, the book could be used to point out the importance and impact words can have. Since Jason had to communicate using one or a few word phrases, word choice became quite important.