Saturday, June 26, 2010

Rules, by Cynthia Lord

One of the joys of being a teacher is having an excuse to keep up with the latest in children's and young adult literature.  In my quest to become a reading specialist, I even get to take a class where all we do is read children's and young adult literature!  The fact that this class happens to correspond with my summer vacation means I get to spend the next few weeks ensconced on my couch with a stack of books, reading to me heart's content!

The first book I read for my class is called Rules, by Cynthia Lord.  I must admit that I was given a copy of this book at school by some very smart ladies who told me I should read it to my class, but after skimming it I put it away in favor of other things.  Had I only listened to these very smart ladies I would have discovered this moving story of family and friendship that much sooner (sorry Gail and Rachel!).  The book is about a 12 year-old girl named Catherine.  Her younger brother, David, has autism.  All Catherine wants is a normal life, for once!  What she doesn't want is to spend the summer making up new rules ("No toys in the fish tank.", "A boy takes off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts.") for David about how to be "normal".  When a new girl moves in next door, she is hopeful that this can be the friendship that she's dreamed of-if only she can leave David and his problems behind.

This novel gives an honest portrayal of people with special needs.  For the most part people with disabilities in our society are ignored, unless their story is especially "inspirational" or their disability is unusual and therefore ripe for exploitation by the media.  This novel, suitable for ages 9-12, shows people with disabilities exactly as they are-very much like the rest of us, strong in some ways, weak in others, needing to feel loved, valued, and cared for.  As Catherine goes through the ups and downs of being a pre-teen, she has reason to question exactly what "being normal" means.  Her journey helps us see that the way that David's autism impacted her life said more about her than about him.  In the end she learns that some rules are meant to be broken.

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