The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

July 20, 2007

Book review: 'Rules' is a mesmerizing debut

“Rules,” by Cynthia Lord

(For grades 4-8)

Twelve-year-old Catherine would like nothing more than to have a “normal” brother, but what she has is David.

Eight-year-old David is autistic and this causes Catherine to feel torn between the intense love that she feels for him and the embarrassment that his actions typically cause. In an effort to help David understand the world, Catherine creates rules for him. “Keep your pants on! Unless Mom, Dad, or the doctor tells you to take them off” and “No toys in the fish tank” are two examples. When Kristi moves in across the street, Catherine is excited and hopes that she will have a new friend for the summer, but she is also uneasy about how her new neighbor will react to David.

Then while waiting for David to finish his occupational therapy sessions, Catherine befriends Jason, a nonverbal, wheelchair-bound boy who communicates by pointing at word cards in a notebook. Catherine uses her creativity and drawing skills to create more word cards — including my personal favorite “Stinks a big one!!!” — to spice up Jason’s dialogue. Jason’s friendship does not come without problems, but ultimately Jason helps Catherine realize that “normal” does not really exist and accepting others is what is really important.

Lord’s debut novel is mesmerizing. Catherine’s narration is genuine and one can sense the love, as well as the frustration that she feels toward her brother. This novel will spark discussions in classrooms, among family members, and in book groups.

“Hattie Big Sky,” by Kirby Larson

(For young adult)

Sixteen-year-old orphan Hattie Brooks has been passed between relatives most of her life. She is tired of being “Hattie Here-and-There” and longs for a life where she does not feel indebted to family members she barely knows.

When her late uncle Chester leaves her his homestead claim near Vida, Mont., Hattie jumps at the chance to leave Iowa and make a new life for herself. Upon arriving in Vida, Hattie is surprised to discover that she has less than one year to fence and plant her land in order to keep it. Despite the hard work of putting up fences, picking rocks, eating her own cooking and surviving in the Montana wilderness, Hattie loves her new home and her newfound friends and neighbors. Especially, Perilee Mueller, her German husband, Karl, and their children. For the first time in Hattie’s life, she feels as though she belongs. However, with Traft Martin scheming to buy her claim, the war pressuring her to be a loyal American, and an anti-German bias making trouble for the Mueller family, Hattie must find the strength to stand up for her convictions.

This fascinating novel was inspired by Larson’s great-grandmother, who homesteaded alone in eastern Montana as a young woman. Larson does an excellent job of describing the “big sky” landscape and thanks to the dozens of homesteaders’ journals that she read prior to writing the novel, provides a unique historical fiction account of what homesteading was like in 1918.

Both titles are available for check out at the Joplin Public Library.

Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at Joplin Public Library.