Author: Cynthia Lord
Grade Level: 3-7
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Rules tells the story of 12-year-old Catherine and her experiences as sister to 8-year-old David, who has autism. Catherine feels shame and embarrassment at David’s behavior and resentment that so much of her and her parent’s lives are taken up caring for him. When school breaks up for summer, Catherine makes friends with Kristi who moves next door. Catherine is afraid that her brother might push Kristi away and spoil their friendship because David does not behave like other kids. She has devised an ever-expanding rulebook for her brother in an effort to contain his erratic behavior and outbursts especially when they are in public. Catherine’s views and feelings on disability are challenged when she meets Jason, who is in a wheelchair and who communicates through flashcards with words on them. As their friendship grows, Catherine sees how other people avoid and ignore Jason and look on him pitifully. At the same time she becomes aware that, as with David, she too is ashamed of her association with him. But Catherine realizes that Jason is just like any other teenager with hopes and dreams and feelings. At this point her journey of acceptance begins and she comes to see disability in a new light.
Element 2 - Respect for Others:
Social justice means respecting others experiences and taking the time and patience to understand how other people live their lives and who these people really are behind the façade of their disability. This book brings living with disability into the limelight for all those families and children who have been unrepresented in literature for so long. It is also a very sensitive story of one girl’s journey of acceptance and understanding from the shame and embarrassment of her brother’s and her friend’s disabilities, to the love and empathy she learns to feel towards them. Many of us are caught off guard when we see others with disabilities that confine them to a wheelchair or that make them walk, speak, or look differently. Very often our kneejerk reaction is to ignore them, exclude them and look on them pitifully. Lord does a great job invoking these reactions in her book. She also draws a detailed picture of the relationship between Catherine and David that many children will identify with from their own experiences as they struggle to understand what it means to be ‘normal’ and what is acceptable in society.
One activity in the classroom after reading this book would be for the students to write about how they might communicate with another person if they could not talk. Another activity would be a role-play between Jason and Catherine using flashcards that the students had written for themselves. This could be extended to an everyday conversation between two students. Students could also conduct research on famous people with disabilities and the accomplishments they have achieved. Inviting a guest speaker into the classroom to talk about autism would give the students greater insight and understanding.