In wrapping up Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to end my children’s book reviews with Rules, by Cynthia Lord. This is a chapter book for children in grades 4-7, published by Scholastic Press. The author won the Newberry Honor and the Schneider Family Book Awards in 2009. Lord, is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism. She is also a former teacher and behavioral specialist.
The book cover says it all, “No toys in the fish tank!” It is one of many rules, that 12-year-old, Catherine has made up to help her autistic brother, David, understand his world. There are others too: Flush! A boy can’t take off his pants in public. This is Catherine’s room. David must knock! It’s okay to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store. Don’t chew your food with your mouth open.
Rules, is a very convincing story about the challenges for siblings living with a brother/sister with autism. For Catherine, it’s about wanting to live a normal life, which is not possible when life revolves around David. Catherine is an endearing character, struggling with her own identity and wanting to have friends. She has all the normal feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, frustration and jealousy that siblings share. A diagnosis of autism is very hard on siblings.
Yet for Catherine, it becomes a fine balancing act. She loves and fiercely protects her brother, but she also has wants and dreams for herself. A lot for a 12-year-old girl to handle, as she is attempting to come into her own. The rules begin to blur for Catherine as she becomes involved in other friendships. You begin to wonder who she has really written the rules for — David or herself. In the end, what is important to Catherine is that everyone is different in their own way. And, that is okay.
This book is an inspirational read for siblings and their parents, and an exceptional discussion book for teachers and students.