A couple of weeks ago, I reviewed Cynthia Lord’s picture book, Happy Birthday, Hamster. Under her name was a tag that said Newbery Honor winner. I promised to come back and review that book: Rules.
It is the beginning of summer, twelve year old Catherine’s best friend, Melissa, has gone to California to spend the summer with her dad. She is looking forward to meeting the girl who is moving in next door, imagining lots of summer fun with her new neighbor. But her brother, David may be a problem. David is autistic. David’s social skills are not the best, so Catherine has written him some rules. They include: say ‘thank you’ when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it), you can yell at a playground but not during dinner and no toys in the fish tank (see cover).
David goes to Occupational Therapy twice a week. Catherine frequently goes along because the clinic is near her favorite shopping district. One day Catherine meets Jason, a boy of 14 or 15, who is also an OT patient. Jason is in a wheel chair and communicates by pointing to hand-written cards in a binder. The cards in the binder are utilitarian. Catherine offers to make word cards to expand Jason’s vocabulary. Catherine gives him back cards that say Gross! Awesome! Friend. As their friendship grows, so do the cards in Jason’s binder.
The new girl, Krista, finally moves in next door. Catherine goes to great lengths to make sure David does not embarrass her in front of her new friend. How Catherine balances her devotion to her brother, her uneasiness about how others see David and her friendship with Jason with her new friend is the crux of the rest of the book. I am not sure the 12 year old me would have made the same decisions. It was tough to be 12 in 1960, it is way tougher in the 21st century. Being perfect, looking perfect and having “perfect” friends is so important, or at least the media and a great deal of society makes you think it is. Catherine finds her “real” self in the process.
The AR level is 3.9.