Sunday, February 23, 2014


Author:  Cynthia Lord
Published:   2006

I sat down to read this book from beginning to end.  I chose this book for two reasons:  it is a Newberry Honor book and it has also won the Schneider Family Book Award.  I was killing two birds with one stone.  I had seen this book before, but the cover did not draw me in.  Now that I know what the cover is, I love it.  I have to stop letting covers dictate what I read.

I asked my husband to look at the cover and to predict what the book was about.  I wanted to see if what he thought would be enough to make me want to read the book.  Ummm no.  He said, "It looks like a game at a carnival.  I bet you have to pick up the duck and check what's written on the bottom to see if you win the goldfish."  So I asked, "Why is the duck saying "RULES"?"  He responded, "Carnival games have rules!"  Okay, no wonder I didn't want to read the book before.  I'm glad I did though.

There is nothing about carnivals in this book.  This story is told by Catherine, a young girl who wants to enjoy her summer and meet a new friend, Kristi, who will swim with her and send Morse code messages back and forth with flashlights.  The only problem is that Catherine has a brother, David, and David has autism.  Catherine loves her brother and has come up with a list of rules for him.  At first you think she has rules so that he doesn't embarrass her, but really, Catherine does not want others to treat David differently. (Examples of rules are:  no toys in the aquarium (see the cover of the book) and don't take your pants off in front of others.) She wants everything and everyone to be "normal."  Interestingly, Catherine learns that normal is not what she thinks.  She befriends a boy, Jason, a paraplegic, at David's occupation therapy sessions.  I see Jason as Catherine's closest friend, but Catherine doesn't see it like that.  She wants to treat Jason like he is "normal," but really she does not and comes to realize that she is doing to him what she does not want others doing to her own brother.  Catherine tries to hide her brother's autism and Jason's handicap from Kristi, and ends up isolating her friends.  Catherine eventually learns to open up and speak up about her feelings to her parents, Kristi, and Jason.  She also realizes that accepting each others' differences is okay, and it is not her problem if others cannot accept the differences.

I read this book and thought of autistic students I have taught.  I want so badly to know what is in their heads. I want them to understand that I may not always understand them and may understand things the wrong way, but I really want to.  What I have always been amazed with is that my students have always been so understanding of my students with autism.  I'm amazed at how supportive they are of each other.  I hope it's like this everywhere.  I know it isn't.  A few years ago I was at a museum and I saw a child with a sticker on his shirt.  The sticker had written on it, "Be patient with me, I have autism."  I felt sorry for the parents and for the child.  I didn't feel like that parent had to explain anything to me, but they felt like they did, so the sticker. I felt sorry for the child, he had probably not always been given nice looks because of the way he behaved.  The only way he knew or was able to express himself.  Everyone needs to read this book and needs to learn compassion and understanding.  People need to learn that before coming to a conclusion they should think there might a reason for the way someone is behaving and it is not for us to judge.

Check this book out from the library!
Learn about Cynthia Lord.


JJordan said...

I have seen that book in our school library. I may have to read it over the summer. Have you ever read the Joey Pigsy books? They deal with a boy who has ADHD. They give you a real insight to how a child with ADHD must feel.

Alissa McCormick said...

This book sounds incredible. You've got me hooked! I am going to read it also. I have lots of experience working with students with autism from college and now teaching, and I have also always wanted to know what was going on in their minds. I appreciate your opinion and review!

Sya LaManque said...

JJordan, I need to better understand children with ADHD. Sometimes I think we need medical degrees to teach so we can help identify problems in our struggling children. I will definitely look into your recommendation.