Book Review: Cynthia Lord’s “Rules”

Read more about Rules at Amazon

In a comment to my Mother’s Day blog, a reader complimented her teenage daughter.

Im so proud of my 16-year-old daughter Jessmill. She is the one that will make me and her dad go out. She says, “get dressed and take mom out to the movies or to dinner, I’ll watch Johnny!” (her brother who has autism — he is 14) … She is our angel, she understands him, and takes great care of him!

This comment made me think of the novel Rules by Cynthia Lord. I heard about this book when I interviewed Carly Gaither for a story in an Easter Seals publication called We Are Easter Seals. Carly’s little brother Scottie Gaither has autism, and he’s the Easter Seals 2008 National Child Representative.

When Carly was interviewed for this article, her class was reading “Rules,” an award-winning fictional children’s book that looks at autism from an older sister’s perspective.

“My language arts teacher told me we’re reading it because of Scottie,” she beams. “And because of me, too!”

When I interviewed Carly for the story, she admitted that growing up with a sister or brother who has autism is not always easy.

Other kids make fun of her little brother sometimes. She describes one time when Scottie approached her group of friends and wanted to play with them. “We were playing something he probably wouldn’t want to play, and we told him that,” she says. “He started whining, and crying, and yelling really loud.” A group of teenagers hanging out nearby pointed and laughed at Scottie. “It’s sort of embarrassing, but then it’s really sad, because they don’t know what’s going on with him. They just think he’s an eight-year-old baby.”

Carly’s been through this before. Many times. She knows what to do. “I ignore them and pretend they didn’t do anything wrong,” she shrugs. “I just, like, forget about ’em.”

Carly told me that reading Rules helped her realize she was not alone. The book has won a host of awards, including a Newbery Honor Medal and the Schneider Family Book Award. The Schneider Award is given by the American Library Association — it honors an author for the artistic expression of the disability experience.

Carly Gaither and the American Library Association can’t be wrong. I recommend this book!


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  1. Easter Seals and Autism » Blog Archive » Wanted: More childrens books about kids with disabilities Says:

    […] of my favorite books reviewed here on the Easter Seals and autism blog is Cynthia Lord’s Rules, an award-winning fictional […]

  2. Cynthia Lord Says:

    Hi Janet,

    As the author of RULES (and a mom of a 17-year-old son with autism myself), I’m truly sorry to hear that my book is the source of this challenge for you.

    I’ve seen wonderful things come as a result of school-wide reads of RULES, but every child is different. I hope your son’s teacher will recognize that and be very sensitive to his feelings on the subject.

    To make it easier, maybe read the book with him before school starts? That way, you’ll take the mystery out of the whole thing, and he’ll be ready for what happens in the story. Also, by reading it with him, you can talk about any feelings he has about it with him. And if you decide it’s important, you’ll have time to speak to his teacher beforehand about ways to make this a positive experience for him.

    I think it’s important to tell him that the character of David in RULES is in the *middle* of the autism spectrum and may not have a lot in common with your son, too. My own son was very much like David when he was young, so that’s the place on the spectrum that I am most familiar with myself.

    I also hope the school will take RULES beyond autism and talk about disabilities in general–which, of course, affects many children at each school and their families. In RULES, there is a major character with cerebral palsy and a speech disorder, as well.

    My very best wishes to you and your family. 🙂 If you’d like to email me directly, please feel free to do so.

    Cynthia Lord

  3. Beth Finke Says:

    Good question! I am not confident answering your question myself, so have passed it on to a blog some of my fellow children’s book authors have put together. The blog is called “Teaching Authors”
    And they have an “Ask the Experts” option. I asked them if they had any advice on making “Rules” a positive, learning experience for a reader with high-functioning autism. I have asked them to post an answer on both their site and here on the Easter Seals and Autism site, too. Stay tuned, and thank you for commenting. As I say, a very interesting question.

  4. Janet Says:

    I am the(now) single parent of two sons on the autism spectrum. I just found out my younger son who has high functioning autism will need to read this book as part of a school-wide reading project. He is easily upset when it comes to name-calling, being a burden, being different and not belonging. Still, the school will discuss the book throughout the first semester. I appreciate any suggestions you have on helping this be a positive, learning experience for him, too.

  5. Beth Finke Says:

    Would love to hear your book suggestions — the easiest way to get them to me would be to simply leave them as comments, I read *all* the comments!

  6. George Says:

    Do you guys have a recommendation section, i’d like to suggest some stuff

  7. Beth Finke Says:

    Dear Marius,

    Vent away! I have found it very helpful to write my feelings down when dealing with issues like this. Also helpful to keep yourself informed, which is exactly what you are doing by reading this blog. You might also appreciate reading some of the “Stories of Hope” on the Easter Seals autism website:
    Good luck, and keep up the good work with those sons of yours – Beth

  8. Marius Says:

    My name is Marius,and our oldest son Daniel has just been diagnosed with Autism,the doctor said that she thinks he is more likely on the high functioning,to me it still sounds like a “life sentence” …I have not read teh book you speak of but,Jessmill attitude brought tears to my eyes( and I can afford to cry for 2 reasons,being at work and being a guy ! I hope I can get my youngest son karlo to be as good with looking out for his big brother( I tought it life was meant to be the other way around the big brother protects his little one !..anyhow i could ramble on ..and on …right now I am just venting !@)

  9. Patricia Wright Says:

    Jacqueline – thanks for sharing your son’s “coming-out” story. Books are a great avenue to increase awareness of disability and diversity. Amazon maintains a book list for children that address disability( The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities ( lists hundreds of books for children and categorizes them by disability.

  10. Jacqueline Says:

    I adore this book. My 9 year old daughter devoured it and continues to read it over and over. Her 11 year old brother is on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. He also read it and loved it. That’s saying a lot, because he’s a nonfiction kind of guy. He even wrote a book report on it. At about that time, his class was doing a diversity unit and, with the help and support of his very special special ed teacher, he “came out” to the class.

    I think the message that resonates is that people with disabilities are people first. The disabilities come second. It took a while for the main character of RULES to realize that, and as she takes readers through the process with her, we are forced to confront our own prejudices.

    Or maybe my kids just liked reading about the toys in the fish tank.

  11. Beth Finke Says:

    First off, CONGRATULATIONS! You filled out everything perfectly, and your comment came out loud and clear on our blog. Welcome to the blogging world! I will contact you privately to answer your request, but for now, thank you for taking the “challenge” and responding to our blog — hope you’ll do so more often!

  12. Karen Says:

    I have never posted a comment on a blog before, so I’m not sure if I have completed the above requests properly…but I hope so!
    I’m not sure where you live, but if you live in the Chicago land area, I was hoping to speak with you regarding an ASD class I will teaching this summer.
    Could you please reply and let me know if you (or someone you know) would be available to address my class in Chicago & a nearby suburb?
    Thank You! Karen
    Thank you! Karen

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