I am thankful for the variety of books that have explored characters on the autism spectrum. Books like Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine and Marcello in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork have shown me how the world might be viewed by a person with autism. Rules (Scholastic 2006) by Cynthia Lord takes a different approach by showing the joys and difficulties of living with someone who has autism.
Catherine loves her younger brother David, but she also longs for a normal life. It’s impossible to be normal when David doesn’t know–much less follow–the rules of life that everyone else understands. Catherine has tried to teach David the rules to survive, like “No toys in the fish tank” or “Chew with your mouth closed.” Still David is bound to embarrass her in front of her friends by opening and shutting all the doors in their homes or by having a tantrum in the middle of the street.
Catherine meets two new friends who force her to confront her fears and question what it means to be normal. Kristi is the new girl next door. Will she be the next-door-friend Catherine has always dreamed of, or will she be turned off by David’s strange behavior influenced by the bully Ryan’s teasing? Catherine meets Jason in the waiting room for her brother’s therapy sessions. He’s in a wheelchair and can only communicate by pointing to cards in a notebook. As Catherine adds words with her original art to his notebook, she learrns to look past his disability, but can she learn to look past her own fear?
I loved that Catherine is not always the perfect older sister. She loves David, but she also loses it. She is afraid of what other people will think of her and David and Jason. She is desperate for a little of her parents’ attention because their time and energy is wrapped up in meeting David’s needs. She is lonely and afraid. She is also creative and generous and a risk-taker. And when words fail, sometimes you can borrow words from someone else. Arnold Lobel (of Frog and Toad fame) has some good ones.