by Cynthia Lord

AR Level 3.9, 4 points

Newbery Honor


I was in search of a book to teach tolerance for my class at the beginning of the year.  Sixth grade is a mysterious year.  They seem to grow a foot over the summer, some boys’ voices start to change, girls suddenly care about what they look like, and the room smells… not the fifth grade “I needed to start using deodorant 3 months ago” smell, but Axe and fruity Dollar Tree body spray start being applied by the gallon.  What isn’t so mysterious is that kids start noticing each other, and they start to see differences.  So, I thought that a book about being tolerant of others and secure with ourselves would be a good way to start the year, and since Rules has gotten such great reviews, what better way to start?

This is a story about a girl named Catherine.  Her younger brother, David, has autism, and she longs to have a “normal” brother and a “normal” family.  To help her brother, she makes a list of rules and social cues for him to follow, but these rules seem to help her as much as they help him.  Catherine is excited to make friends with her new neighbor, a girl her own age who appears to be in a higher social category, due to her hair, make up, and relationship with Ryan, the cool boy and David’s bully.  One day at David’s OT, Catherine befriends Jason, a boy in a wheelchair who relies on PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System).  The author never specifically mentions what disability Jason has, but he is in a motorized wheelchair and cannot speak, although he can hear what is going on as well as a non-disabled teenager would.

Throughout the story, Catherine struggles:  she feels burdened by having to watch David, because he is a handful and embarrasses her.  However, she also struggles with people bullying or not understanding him.  She finds a special friendship with Jason, but she doesn’t want her friends to make fun of him, or her for their relationship.  In the end, Catherine has to realize that she is the one who needs to change her point of view.

What I liked about this book was the insight into the life of someone living with someone with autism.  Was that a confusing sentence?  I am starting my 13th year teaching.  I taught a special day class for a few years in there.  I have had many, many students with autism in general and special education, but it wasn’t until this past year that I had a student with a sibling with autism.  Depending on the needs of the child, it can be especially hard on the siblings and other family members.  Catherine struggled, and I like that her friends were more understanding than she was, and they helped her to be more accepting.  I think this would be a good book for students to read, and I plan to discuss it in detail.

What I didn’t like about this book was that it could have been longer or more detailed.  I thought Ryan needed another lesson in being respectful.  Kristi was able to show her tolerance and acceptance, but Ryan wasn’t really given a chance to redeem himself.

Here’s what I’m starting to realize… I love children’s books, but I don’t love all of them.  I am really disappointed when the theme is good but the content isn’t challenging, or when it leaves me wishing it was better.  I kind of felt that way with this book.  It had the well-developed main character, I appreciated the message, but it didn’t leave me wanting more.  I stayed up a little past my bedtime to finish it, but I didn’t wake up wishing I hadn’t.  I’m also currently reading How To Train Your Dragon and The Life of Billy Miller and, I’m getting that same feeling about both, which is why I had to put those down and pick up something different.  I think I’m becoming an even pickier reader than I already am!

Book 18 of 52


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