Twelve-year-old Catherine has high hopes for her summer with a new girl moving in next door and a long vacation stretching out in front of her. But, somehow, she can’t seem to escape her responsibilities for David, her younger, autistic brother. She loves David, but he is wearing her patience thin despite her attempts to provide him with the rules that everyone else seems to know but that David has to be taught. They are simple rules like: “You can yell on a playground, but not during dinner,” and “It’s fine to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.”
Life becomes even more complicated when Catherine meets Kristi, the new girl next door, who seems to have the perfectly normal life Catherine has always wanted. While bringing David to occupational therapy with her mother, Catherine meets Jason, a boy her age who is confined to a wheelchair and can not speak. Catherine grows closer to Jason, illustrating words to put in his communication book, while becoming wary of Kristi’s determination to be popular and cool.
As the summer goes on, Catherine finds herself confused by the conflicting demands of her friendships with Kristi and Jason. She begins to wonder if she needs some new rules to live by herself — and finally makes decisions that are all her own.
About the Author
Cynthia Lord grew up as a shy, daydreaming child in rural New Hampshire. She and her sister collaborated on writing songs, swimming in the nearby lake, and collecting toads. After college, Cynthia became a teacher, even teaching for a while in a one-room schoolhouse.
As her children grew older, Cynthia returned to writing fiction, and her debut novel, Rules, was recognized as a Newbery Honor book. In her second novel, Touch Blue, eleven-year-old Tess is faced with a new foster brother and the threat of losing the island home in Maine that she loves.
Cynthia lives near the ocean in Maine with her husband and their two children. She describes herself as a “children’s book writer, sea glass collector, daydreamer, and the mother of two teenagers.”
Teaching the Book
All Catherine wants is a normal life — but is that possible with a brother who has autism and parents who only think of his disability? This sensitive yet humorous book is the recipient of many awards including a Newbery Honor Medal. Rules provides great discussion starters for upper elementary students about friendship, compassion, and the challenges of disabilities. Activities engage students in math, art, and technology projects, as well as writing a book review with their own star rating.
Theme Focus: Friendship, Compassion
Comprehension Focus: Make Inferences
Language Focus: Words with Emotion
Get Ready to Read
Tell students that the book they will be reading is titled Rules. List the following rules from the book on the whiteboard or chart paper.
- Say “thank you” when someone gives you a present (even if you don’t like it).
- If you want to get away with something, don’t announce it first.
- Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.
Ask students which of these rules they were taught. How did they figure out the other rules? Challenge students to give other examples of rules of behavior that they follow with friends and at school.
Preview and Predict
Ask students to preview the cover of the book and describe what they see. Then tell them another rule in the book: No toys in the fish tank. Ask them to predict what the rule might mean.
Words With Emotion
Explain to students that Rules contains many words that hint at how a character is feeling without directly describing the feeling. These words have either a positive or a negative shade of meaning called a connotation. Ask students to watch for the following words as they read the book. Encourage them to look for clues in the text to figure out the meaning and then check the dictionary definitions and write them on the vocabulary cards.
Use the Rules Vocabulary Cards printable and distribute copies to students.
- shriek (p. 3)
- fidget (p. 18)
- mimic (p. 30)
- grimace (p. 43)
- irritate (p. 55)
- soothe (p. 64)
- relieve (p. 83)
- startle (p. 118)
Words to Know
Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote on their vocabulary cards to answer the following questions. Then ask them to describe the emotion they attach to the word.
- What would make you shriek?
- Name something that would make you fidget.
- Why would someone mimic another person?
- Why might someone grimace?
- What things irritate you?
- How can you soothe a pet?
- How can you relieve a headache?
- Is it nice to startle someone?
As You Read
Reading the Book
Read aloud the first chapter of the book, asking students to follow along. Then prompt students to ask questions about what you just read; for example: Why does David behave the way he does? How does Catherine feel about him? Which of Catherine’s rules for David do you think is the best?
Assign students to read Rules independently. Remind them to keep the Big Question in mind as they read.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read and be ready to answer it when they’ve finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students record it in their reading journals. Why do you think rules are so important to Catherine?
The author of Rules doesn’t always explain everything that is going on in the story. You have to figure out how a character feels or why he or she does something by putting together hints in the story by using both hints from the story and your own past experiences. This is called making inferences.
Use the graphic organizer on the Rules Make Inferences printable to model for students how to make inferences. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students.
On pages 2–3, Catherine describes how David behaves at the video store. “Dad says, ‘No one cares, Catherine. Don’t be so sensitive,’ but he’s wrong. People do care.” What can I learn by making inferences about these words? Well, I can guess that David isn’t like most kids because of how he acts. And it sounds like her dad isn’t being very understanding of Catherine’s feelings. And I can also guess that it’s really Catherine who cares, because she’s probably embarrassed by David’s actions. The author hasn’t told me any of those things directly, but I can use the text clues and my own experience to guess that they are true.
Have students fill in the rest of the organizer with inferences based on text clues and their own experiences. Discuss students’ answers and ask them to give evidence to support them.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
Why do you think Catherine chooses Jason as a friend over Kristi at the end of the book? Do you think she made the right choice? (Answers will vary.)
2. Make Inferences
Why do you think Catherine’s parents treat her the way they do? How does it make Catherine feel? Do you think that may change? (Sample answer: They don’t think much about Catherine’s needs, just David’s. It makes Catherine feel resentful.)
3. Words With Emotion
What words does Catherine add to Jason’s communication book? How do these words make him feel? (Sample answers: gross, awesome; he feels more like a normal kid and happy)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
1. Text to Self
How did you feel about David at the beginning of the book? Did your feelings about him change by the end of the book? How did your feelings about Jason change as you got to know him better?
2. Text to World
What are some of the social rules that kids in your school follow—even if the rules are never spoken? Do you think the rules are fair or unfair?
3. Text to Text
Compare the young characters in Rules with characters from other books, movies, or TV shows. Who is like Catherine? Like Kristi? Like Ryan? Like Jason?
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Remind them that there is no one right answer. Why do you think rules are so important to Catherine?
Reread Catherine’s thoughts about rules on page 10. Then assign students to create their own rulebook about some aspect of their life — in school, at home, on a sports team or other activity, or with friends. Guide students to write the same kind of rules that Catherine made up for David — rules that everyone except David understands, even though they weren’t taught them. Make copies of the Rules Big Activity printable and distribute it to students. Read the directions and answer any questions to clarify the activity.
Content Area Connections
Sports and Disabilities
Encourage students to research the ways in which technology helps wounded war veterans and other disabled athletes participate in events like marathons. Suggest that they learn more about Achilles International, which provides racing wheelchairs for wounded veterans, or Paralympic athletes.
Catherine illustrates the words she adds to Jason’s book. She asks herself, “What does awesome look like?” Challenge students to choose a word like gross, awesome, cruel, cool, embarrassed, or another descriptive word; ask themselves what it looks like; and then illustrate the word. Encourage students to display and compare their drawings.
With Catherine’s help, Jason gets a motorized wheelchair and takes it for a run. Explain to students that communities have a legal responsibility to provide equal access for disabled persons. Suggest that they plan a route around their community for someone like Jason who is in a wheelchair. What barriers would he encounter? What helpful things like ramps and automatic doors are in community buildings?
Frog and Toad
Throughout the book, Catherine and David talk to each other using Arnold Lobel’s words from Frog and Toad are Friends. Provide a copy of the book and encourage interested students to keep Catherine and David in mind as they read it. Have students discuss these questions after reading: What does the book teach about friendship? Why do you think it is David’s favorite book?
Reading and Writing Connection
Cynthia Lord’s award-winning book is an introspective story that appeals to some students more than others. Challenge students to write a review of the book, giving it a rating from one to four stars. First, have each student create a rating system using stars, deciding what — for them — makes a four-star book as opposed to a one-star book. Then ask students to rate the book according to their own criteria and write an argument essay that explains their rating. Emphasize that every opinion is legitimate as long as it is supported by reasoning and evidence.
© 2012 SI ALL RIGHTS RESERVED