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. 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.

  2. 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 !@)

  3. 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.