Rules by Cynthia Lord

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Lord, Cynthia. Rules. New York: Scholastic Press, 2006. ISBN 0439443822

Plot Summary

Catherine is twelve and a new girl has just moved in next door. She hopes this new girl will be friends with her and spend the summer hanging out, but she is worried the actions of her younger brother who is autistic will get in the way. Catherine has rules for David to help him interact with the world. Catherine struggles with her alternating love for and annoyance at her brother and longs to have her parents pay attention to her as they do to her brother David. While at occupational therapy with David, Catherine befriends wheelchair-bound Jason who can only communicate by pointing to word cards in a book he carries and subsequently makes word cards for Jason so he can expand his vocabulary. An invitation to the community center dance with Jason from the new girl next door has Catherine questioning what is truly important.

Critical Analysis

Cynthia Lord has penned a deep, rich cast of characters who reveal their emotions through their thoughts and their dialogue with one another. Catherine shares the same desires as most typical twelve year old girls- to have friends and do normal activities with them and to be liked by the cool kids at school. But, she also has a desire to be good to her younger brother David, who is autistic. These two desires come in conflict with each other time and time again. Just when she appears to be having a breakthrough in the friend department, David throws himself into a fit, Catherine is utterly embarrassed, and the girl next door retreats into her house. Each time this scene is repeated, Catherine goes through several emotions in the aftermath: anger at David, resentment toward her parents for not keeping a more watchful eye on David, despair at the lost opportunity, and finally, regret for all those feelings. Catherine also makes rules that she structures her life and David’s life around. For example, one rule for David is, “No toys in the fishtank,” and one of her rules is “No dancing unless I’m alone in my room or it’s pitch-black dark.” A culminating event at the end of the book has Catherine embarrassed of not only her brother, but her friend Jason. When Jason finds out that Catherine has told half-truths to keep him from meeting her school friends, his retreat from and refusal to see Catherine causes her to reevaluate the things she thinks are most important. In the end, Catherine realizes that sometimes rules are really excuses and need to be broken and that small moments with people matter. Jason is the boy Catherine meets at her brother’s occupational therapy appointments and he is confined to a wheelchair and uses a book of words in pictures to communicate. When the two meet, Jason’s vocabulary is rather limited, but Catherine makes him a plethora of word cards and helps him to expand his vocabulary to include modern young people words such as “whatever” and “awesome”. The two become friends, rather hesitantly on Catherine’s part, and conversations between the two speak to their deepening friendship and their values.

This book provides the reader with a glimpse into the everyday life of a family, and more specifically, a sibling of an autistic person. Since the book is set during the summer, the reader sees Catherine accompany her mother and brother to occupational therapy, go down to the swimming hole, take a stroll to the beach, and attend a community dance. The focus of the book is more on the dialogue and the relationships and less on the events that occur, but still, the story moves along at a good pace and includes believable and engaging events. Events build toward an argument and a falling out of sorts between the two main characters and, while the reader feels sure the two will reconcile, there are a couple bumps along that road that help to avoid complete obviousness. While the author does not leave all things perfect at the end, circumstances are looking up for Jason, Catherine, and her friends.

Lord places her characters along the coast of Maine in a small town with a therapy office, hardware store, an antique store, and a marine supply store all on the same block. Several references are made to a murky pond and the beach, which are places one can expect to see if traveling to coastal Maine. The book is a bit dated for current young adult readers, however. Catherine uses her personal CD player to share music with Jason and David listens to his favorite book on a tape that Catherine must constantly fix for him as his player unravels the tape. Teen readers today will be amused and possibly confused at the existence of these items. For the most part though, the few years time difference does not have a great impact on the story. The events, relationships, and important aspects could occur fifty years ago, nine years ago, or today.

Rules is a coming of age novel with an additional theme of acceptance. Catherine and Jason both grow up through the course of the book: becoming friends, handling situations they would normally look to their parents to handle, and attending a birthday party and a dance together. These are events that any normal twelve or thirteen year old would go through, but are complicated by Jason’s and David’s disabilities, which add a level of maturity obtained by Catherine and Jason before the end of book. These themes allow readers who are unfamiliar with people with disabilities to gain insight and for people who have a friend or family member with a disability, this novel will help them to feel like they are not alone.

This is Cynthia Lord’s first novel, but it reflects her knowledge of autism and special needs and clues readers in to her passion for enlightening the public on these subjects. She does a good job of balancing out the natural, free-flowing dialog and the unobtrusive, informative narrative so that neither one feels overwhelming. Lord also alerts the reader to the importance of several recurring fixtures in the book by setting them apart. For example, all the rules for David and Catherine appear offset, with larger spacing before and after them, and are in a different font that is bolded. Also, every time Jason or someone else communicates using one of his word picture cards, those words appear in a bold, sans serif font with a period after each word or set of words that appears on a single card.

While Catherine is certainly the main character, the author has chosen a male for the character with the second largest role. The scales are not tipped one way or the other as far as gender in minor characters is concerned either. Lord goes against some traditional stereotypes when she makes wheelchair-bound, mute Jason a funny, witty, personable guy who is interested in music. Often, persons with disabilities are cast in a much dimmer light. The author also manages to avoid ostracizing any group of potential readers by making the characters non culture-specific. Other than mentioning some details about the community culture of coastal Maine, this story does not differentiate and therefore, has a wide appeal to all types of readers.

This is a great story about friendship and growing up and also a great way for people to gain more empathy for and understanding of families who have members with disabilities, whatever kind they may be.

Review Excerpts

Newbery Medal

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Schneider Family Book Awards

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

American Library Association Notable Books for Children

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

California Young Reader Medal

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

West Virginia Children’s Choice Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2007 )

Nene Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2008 )

Wyoming Indian Paintbrush Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Sunshine State Young Reader’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Young Hoosier Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Rhode Island Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Virginia Reader’s Choice Awards

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

William Allen White Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Young Reader’s Choice Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Great Stone Face Children’s Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

North Carolina Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Maine Student Book Award

( WON AWARD in 2007 )

Colorado Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Bluegrass Award

( WON AWARD in 2008 )

Golden Sower Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Rebecca Caudill Young Reader’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Beehive Children’s Fictional Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Maud Hart Lovelace Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

Georgia Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2008 )

Nutmeg Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2010 )

Grand Canyon Reader Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2010 )

Great Lakes’ Great Books Award

( WON AWARD in 2008 )

Massachusetts Children’s Book Award

( NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD in 2009 )

“When Kristi moves in next door, Catherine hopes that the girl will become a friend, but is anxious about her reaction to David. Then Catherine meets and befriends Jason, a nonverbal paraplegic who uses a book of pictures to communicate, she begins to understand that normal is difficult, and perhaps unnecessary, to define. Rules of behavior are less important than acceptance of others. Catherine is an endearing narrator who tells her story with both humor and heartbreak. Her love for her brother is as real as are her frustrations with him. Lord has candidly captured the delicate dynamics in a family that revolves around a child’s disability.” — School Library Journal, April 2006

“In the able hands of the author, mother of an autistic child, Catherine’s emotions come across as entirely convincing, especially her alternating devotion to and resentment of David, and her guilt at her impatience with him. Through her artwork, the heroine gradually opens up to Jason, a wheelchair-bound peer who can communicate only by pointing to words on cards. As she creates new cards that expand Jason’s ability to express his feelings, their growing friendship enables Catherine to do the same. A rewarding story that may well inspire readers to think about others’ points of view.” — Publisher’s Weekly, April 2006

“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…. 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.” Booklist, February 2006

Connections

Read other books by Cynthia Lord:

  • Touch Blue, ISBN 9780545035323
  • Half a Chance, ISBN 9780545035330

Read other award-winning books about characters with disabilities:

  • Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, ISBN 9780312643003
  • Somebody, Please Tell Me Who I Am by Harry Mazer and Peter Lerangis, ISBN 9781416938958
  • The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, ISBN 9780375866678

Watch the Scholastic Booktalk for this book:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIcFuaSAvAw

Watch a video created by students as a Battle of the Books project in which they interviewed a mother of two autistic boys and the boys themselves:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0EwjC7gD38

Read excerpts of Temple Grandin’s book, The Way I See It, Revised and Expanded 2nd Edition: A Personal Look at Autism and Asperger’s, ISBN 9781935274216

Break students into small groups and have them discuss the book and their reactions to it:

  • How would you feel if you were each different character?
  • Do you know anyone who people look at differently? How does that make you feel? How do you think that makes them feel?
  • Would anyone like to share personal experiences similar to Catherine’s?
  • What words would you make on cards for Jason?

Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 12, 2015. Cover art copyright 2006 by Scholastic, Inc., Rubber Duck Photo Copyright Gary Doak/Photonica, Goldfish detail, Copyright G.K. and Vikki Hart/Iconica, Jacket Design by Kristina Albertson

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s