I recently finished (devoured) Cynthia Lord‘s award winning (Newbery Honor and Schneider Family Book Award, among others) Middle Grade book called RULES. I loved this determined, mind-of-her-own protagonist, Catherine, who has been expected all of her young life to do extra-duty supervision of her little brother, David, who has autism. As she aptly puts it, “Everyone expects a tiny bit from him and a huge lot from me.” (p. 61)
Before the story begins, we are shown a list of some of the rules Catherine has devised, rules to help David navigate his way through the normal things in life, like chewing with his mouth closed or saying “hi” to someone who says “hi” to you. The list becomes even more endearing when it includes moments that are specific to David’s autistic ways, like “no fish in the fish tank” or Catherine’s needs like “if the bathroom door is closed, knock (especially if Catherine has a friend over.)
I admire Catherine’s perseverance and patience as she dutifully complies with either the wishes or the shortcomings of her too-busy parents, but I am also definitely on her side when she desperately needs to have some alone time, or time with a friend all to herself. That opportunity appears to develop when, Kristi, a girl Catherine’s age, moves in next door, but the relationship sours when Kristi becomes heavily influenced by Jason, who has already been bullying David.
Catherine usually spends time in the waiting room of David’s physical therapist drawing, her favorite pastime and something she excels at. This sparks a friendship with Jason, a boy in a wheelchair who communicates by using a book of word cards. Catherine uses her art to decorate his cards and her sense of humor to spice up his vocabulary with phrases like “stinks a big one.” Their friendship becomes important to both of them, and when Catherine thinks she has hurt Jason’s feelings by turning him down to go to a dance, she invites him at the last minute. There’s only one problem. She is stuck with David. This dilemma finally pushes her over the top (Yeah!) and gives her enough steam to express her true feelings to her father. Calling him home from work for an “emergency” finally gets his attention, as does Catherine’s comment-said-in-a-raised-voice, “Maybe he (David) does need you more than me, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need anything at all!”
Even though this is a middle grade novel, I highly recommend it to any family with at least two siblings, one of whom is dealing with autism or any condition that requires extra care-giving.
Hey READERS, I would love to hear from you.
Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?