• Happy birthday Judith Janda Presnall (Animals with Jobs series), Dave Ross (Book of Hugs), Amy Schwartz (Bea and Mr. Jones), and Mark Shulman (Scrawl).
  • It’s the birth date of Hans Christian Andersen (1805–1875), Andersen’s Fairy Tales, and Ruth Heller (1924–2004), Chickens Aren’t the Only Ones (World of Nature series).
  • In 1902, the first full-time movie theater in the United States opens in Los Angeles—Electric Theatre. Read Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma, Cam Jansen: The Mystery of the Monster Movie by David A. Adler, and If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond.
  • It’s National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. Read Peanut Butter and Jelly: A Play Rhyme by Nadine Bernard Westcott.

In 2007, April 2 was designated World Autism Awareness Day by the General Assembly of the United Nations, because of the prevalence and high rate of autism in children. In the past few years several notable children’s books have included a child with autism or a focus on autism. My favorite book on the topic remains Cynthia Lord’s Rules. Not only does she deal with how autism affects a family but she also writes a compelling story with a believable and totally lovable protagonist.

All twelve-year-old Catherine longs for is a normal life and a chance to have a reasonable conversation with her young brother David. But he suffers from autism, and the family, slowly and inextricably, begins to revolve around his disability and his needs—rather than Catherine’s. In order to make their life more normal, Catherine tries to help David grow and mature. David’s autism makes him a stickler for rules so she makes a list of rules for him that include imperatives like: “Don’t stand in front of the TV when other people are watching it.” Or “No toys in the fish tank.” However, no matter how many rules Catherine can think of, David always manages to careen out of control.

As a twelve-year-old trying to navigate the changing world of middle school, Catherine also struggles to find rules for her own life. She needs to figure out how to make a new friend and how to deal with an attractive boy, Jason, who she meets at David’s clinic. Catherine’s key problem centers around her mother and father. How can she get them to parent her, rather than just treat her as part of a support system for David?

Like Jodi Picoult in My Sister’s Keeper, Lord brilliantly shows the dynamic of a family that focuses all its resources on the child who has special needs. Catherine truly cares for David, and because she has normal aspirations of any twelve-year-old, the effects of an autistic child on a family seem very real to young readers, something they can completely understand. People, relationships, dealing with life’s problems: all these topics are explored with humor and finesse in Cynthia Lord’s debut novel. To write it she drew on her own family experience of a son with autism. When her daughter turned 10, she said “I never see families like mine in books and on TV.” Cynthia Lord set out to create that book.

Since its publication in 2008, Rules has received numerous awards from adults, including a Newbery Honor, but it also has been selected by children ages eight through thirteen as their favorite book for state children’s choice awards. Rules combines literary quality with child appeal, making it one of our finest books published in the twenty-first century. I can think of no better way to celebrate World Autism Awareness Day than sharing Rules with the children in your life.

Here’s a passage from Rules:

On the ride home from the clinic, the rain comes. David holds his hands over his ears, blocking the tiny squeaks on the windshield wipers against the glass.

David hears everything extra loud, Stephanie says. Milk being poured, shopping carts clanging at the grocery store, my pet guinea pigs squealing, the school bus braking as it pulls up to the corner; and the whoosh of the bus door opening—all those things and a million more make David cover his ears, fast as lightning.

Originally posted April 2, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Autism, Award Winning, Family, Humor, Newbery, Special Needs
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Rules


  1. Jean says:

    Oh Anita! I can’t wait to share this with the teachers of our wonderful students. Thank you!

  2. Katie says:

    I’ve had Rules in my classroom library for years, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I never actually knew what it was about! You just got me really, really excited to experience Rules for myself. PS: I am a HUGE fan of Marcelo in the Real World!

  3. Anita, thanks for sharing information on another great book.

    It sounds so original and it seems the perfect book to approach a sensitive subject such as autism.

    I want this in my library, I am sure all of us at home will learn from it – kids and parents alike!

    Read Aloud Dad

  4. Thank you for the recommendation! I plan to read this book, then send it to my niece in Pittsburg, whose brother has a severe case of autism.
    I love this site, and keep coming back to it. Is there a way to have these sent to my inbox? Beside the word subscribe, I see facebook and twitter icons, but how do I have it sent directly to yours truly? Thank you so much!

  5. Kate says:

    It’s so great that more books are coming out that feature an autistic child. Most children know someone with autism, either at school or in their community, if not in their family. Cynthia Lord introduces her readers to an autistic character through Cathryn’s interesting and relatable voice, which surely make a huge difference in reaching out to readers who might otherwise remain distanced from autistic members of society.

    Also, I love the cover! The blue and yellow really pops out.

  6. Anita says:

    Elizabeth: Thanks so much for the note. At this point, I only have RSS feed, Facebook and Twitter set up. I’ve been working on the issues of sending pages to people, but at this point that isn’t possible. You can always set up a Google alert, of course. Thanks for your support of the Almanac.

  7. Anita says:

    Katie: Marcelo is a brilliant book, for a slighter older audeince 12-16 than Rules. Both are two of the finest novels of the past ten years.

  8. Jacqueline says:

    I would also add Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine, which won the National Book Award.

  9. Laura says:

    Last fall I had the privilege of hearing Francisco Stork speak about his book Marcello in the Real World at The Foundation for Children’s Books (FCB) Today, I attended FCB’s spring conference and not only learned about Cynthia Lords book of similar genre, but discovered this awesome Blog! I look forward to becoming a frequent visitor! The character development in Marcello in the Real World is so superb that I felt that the characters were neighbors. I bought a copy for the faculty at the elementary school where I am the library teacher. I’m delighted to hear that Lord’s book is okay for a young audience (grade 5 and up.) Thank you for all of the helpful information Anita!

  10. Sarah says:

    I am a school librarian and some of my students had me make a ‘top 5’ list. Rules made the cut. It is just so real. And I love how they use Frog and Toad as a love language between the brother and sister. So sweet while so very tricky!

  11. Laura says:

    That’s really neat that Rules mentions Frog and Toad. I like it when the characters in books mention good literature. It reminds me of the 2010 Newbery winner, When You Reach Me and the metion of A Wrinle in Time.

  12. Rebecca says:

    I read this book just after my own son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. At a difficult time in my own life, I found it comforting and inspiring. I was impressed with Lord’s sensitivity to both children’s needs, and I draw upon it frequently in my own parenting (at least I try to!). This book (and Marcelo) are two of my favorites. I just quoted it, in fact, at a meeting at the wonderful Asperger’s Association of New England: Catherine tells her father, “just because I need less parenting, doesn’t mean I don’t need ANY parenting.” It is very powerful. Thanks for including this gem.

  13. Anita says:

    Rebecca: Thank you for sharing this story. That is one of the most powerful lines in the book.

  14. I, too, love this book. I wish it had been written years ago! As a grade 4 teacher with all different levels ability were in my class, including a child with autism. I would have loved to read it with my classes. I’ve passed it on to several families who have children with autism. They have all loved it.

    I love the relationship between Catherine and her brother, but I especially love her relationship with Jason, the boy she meets at the clinic. Jason cannot physically speak so he uses word cards to communicate. The problem is, those cards are made by adults, so they include the words adults deem important. Catherine begins making new word cards for Jason that convey what is important to a 12 year old, including the word, “whatever”…”It’s good for annoying your mother.” One day, as Jason and his mother enter the clinic, we hear his mother say something like,”Don’t you whatever me, young man!” I LOVED that moment. I cried and smiled at the same time. Jason found his voice. He got to be a normal kid and back talk his mom. That one moment beautifully captured what I wanted for all of my students- the abilty to be themselves and to be heard.


  15. Carol Satta says:

    This is a wonderful book. Know of a 4th-grade teacher who used it as a read-aloud and in their classroom which includes a child with autism. The students loved the book and learned a lot about how to relate to their classmate. Also love her “Touch Blue” about foster care.

  16. Ashley Barry says:

    I’ve never read this book but I might recommend it to my brother in law’s younger brother, who has autisim. I was particularly struck by the cover art. It’s like one goldfish lives in one world (above the water) and the other lives in another (below the water surface). The image is very beautiful and inspiring.

  17. Katrina says:

    I did this as a book club book with 5th graders, and they loved it, especially the rules that Catherine wrote down for her brother, which range from the useful to the silly (“Don’t put toys in the fish tank!”), and the friendship between Catherine and Jason.

  18. Margaret Mennone says:

    As always, Anita, this is another excellent choice. My mother is a special education teacher, my uncle is profoundly disabled, and I had a very good friend with Downs Syndrome growing up. Accepting people with disabilities has always been very important to my family and I was always taught not to stare or treat anyone differently. I think this is a very important lesson, but its easier to learn when you yourself have a disabled person in your life. While ‘Rules’ is a perfect read for a child who has a disabled sibling or friend and already understands how Catherine is feeling, I think it is also important that children who haven’t interacted with a disabled person to read a book like this. Teaching that empathy can be done in many ways, and Lord’s book is one of the most successful.

Leave a Comment

Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey.

Discover the stories behind the children’s book classics . . .

The new books on their way to becoming classics . . .

And events from the world of children’s books—and the world at large.