I just finished Cynthia Lord’s book Rules (
) , and I can’t say I’ve read too many books that are more deserving of the Newberry Honor. What a beautifully crafted book. It’s amazing and fresh to read an author whose voice is so honest and just plain real.
Rules is about a girl whose eight-year-old brother is autistic. He runs the family, in a sense — something that parents and siblings of autistic children understand all too well. My niece Emily wrote an essay about her autistic younger brother Danny recently. “Welcome to the Jungle” was her theme, and she, too, understood that her family was subject to a certain set of rules due to Danny’s disability. In Cynthia Lord’s story, the main character, Catherine, makes rules to help her brother through life. “No taking off your pants in public” may sound strange to those of us who have never lived with an autistic child, but I know that Emily would nod her head knowingly at this one.
At the same time Catherine (Cat) is dealing with the struggles of babysitting her brother, she gets to know another boy who attends the same clinic for therapy. Jason is in a wheelchair and can’t speak, but the two develop a relationship through the communication cards to which he points to express his thoughts. Cat ends up crafting more cards for him — brighter ones with pictures and snazzier language.
Beyond the issue of autism, Cat has to deal with the same feelings and angst that all middle school kids face: Am I going to make friends? Do I fit in? This book is sweet and funny and clever (I love the references to Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad). As a teacher, I kept imagining all the great activities that kids would enjoy to go along with the text. I’m dying to make communication cards of my own and try talking without my voice for a day. What an interesting concept. And what a great book. Thanks, Cynthia!