Rules by Cynthia Lord

fish and rubber duck book cover

BIBLIO: 2006 Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., ages 10 and up, $15.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 0-439-44382-2

​Rules are essential for living a normal life in society. So what happens when you straddle the line between? Catherine struggles with trying to fit in and protecting her autistic brother, David, from the very same people. Not having very many friends Catherine is eager to meet the girl who moves in next door. She meets Kristi, the seemingly perfect girl next door and hopes that they can be cool best friends together. Reluctantly she realizes that Kristi is just like the bully Ryan and doesn’t understand David and judges their family for his strange antics. David is the sweet little brother that tends to act inappropriately in normal contexts, so Catherine makes him rules, which he loves to follow. Catherine babysits him and we find though she dislikes the difficulty of his disability she wouldn’t change a thing about him. She also expresses her need for attention from her busy parents, who when not working, are always focused on David.
Due to Kristi’s reaction to David Catherine doesn’t tell Kristi about her new friend Jason, a boy from OT (occupational therapy), who spends his life mute and in a wheelchair.Catherine connects to Jason by drawing him communication cards and quickly sees how intelligent he is, especially with a broader vocabulary. While Jason and Catherine seem like an unusual pair the reader sees how sensitive they are to each other’s experiences, and how normal their relationship is; though Jason’s disability does cause a few squalls between them as Catherine still tries to define her place in society.
​The book culminates at the end with the community center dance where Catherine breaks her rules, confesses her true self to Kristi, and dances with Jason. Ultimately Catherine learns to love her brother and their odd interactions and to admit her feelings about Jason and face the truth about Kristi. Cynthia Lord brings up the very real stigma surrounding people with disabilities and urges the reader to sympathize with them and their caretakers by bringing the reader into very real scenarios and using emotions that are easy to relate to. This book is great for exposing children to a reality they may not understand completely, reading this makes them less like Kristi and Ryan and more like Catherine.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key by Jack Gantos

BIBLIO: 1998 Farrar, Straus and Giroux., ages 10 and up, $16.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-0-374-33664-6

Joey Pigza is a little boy that any kid can relate to. He is hyper and jittery and plays the class clown. But unlike most kids, he has ADHD. Joey tries really hard to act like the good kid he is but… he has to “get back to you on that”. With an illness controlled by poorly administered meds, Joey frequently gets caught up in wild antics like shouting out, sticking Band-Aids everywhere, swallowing a key, eating a whole shoofly pie, and cutting off Maria’s nose!
Unable to handle Joey’s wild behavior the school sends him to the Lancaster County Special Education Center. There he meets Special Ed (Mr. Ed Vanness) to get reevaluated for meds and change his outlook on life. After six weeks at the center he returns to school well –adjusted and with a renewed hope for his academic success, and with a new puppy, Pablo, who was an incentive to get better.
He realizes that everyone had been rooting for him all along and that he actually made a difference in people’s lives. Among them Mrs. Maxy, Mrs.Jarzab, Mrs.Howard, and Nurse Holyfield from public school who worry about his safety and only want to see him learn; not forgetting Charlie and Howard, the special needs students he befriended, showing that he, Joey Pigza, really could make a positive change in the world.
Jack Gantos uses this book as a way to describe to the reader how it feels to be hyperactive and attention deficit. Using descriptive language such as “wired” and “spring” and describing the blurring of the surrounding world bouncing everywhere except into Joey’s brain. Subtly the author also brings in themes of a troubled home-life. Starting with the abusive grandmother and nonexistent dad, and moves along to the devoted previously absentee mother who has a messy past with alcohol. This very real book brings some perspective to how a mentally challenged student might feel about themselves and how they understand what society thinks about them.

More titles in the Series:
boy and dog book cover boy and bike book coverboy in bumblebee costume book cover

Double Dutch

Double Dutch by Sharon Draper

jump rope book cover

​BIBLIO: 2004 Aladdin Paperbacks/Simon& Schuster , ages 12 and up, $5.99.
REVIEWER: Gwen Harter.
​FORMAT: Chapter Book
ISBN: 978-689-84231-3

In a Cincinnati junior high Delia tries to live a normal life. She goes to her classes every day with her friends Yolanda, Charlene, Randy and Jesse, and the scary Tolliver twins Titan and Tabu. On the outside everything seems fine but two of them are hiding troublesome secrets.
Delia has somehow managed to keep it a secret throughout her school career that she is illiterate, due to a severe undiagnosed reading disability, unknown to everyone except Yolanda- the pathological liar with a good heart .She is smart and manages to fool her teachers by volunteering to do oral reports, watching the movie adaptations of books, and memorizing classroom discussions.Unfortunately it’s getting harder and harder to hide, especially as the state exams including reading and writing quickly approach.
Randy has been living on his own for almost two months after his truck driver dad disappears. Afraid to call the cops for help because he is worried about being put into foster care or having his dad charged with neglect forces Randy to act like the adult he isn’t quite yet; trying to pay bills and feed himself and his cat is a challenge that he bears alone.
Both of these kids find solace in the double dutch team where Delia, Yolanda, Charlene, and Misty compete while Randy helps Bomani, the coach, to prepare the girls as they train for the city competition, then states, then nationals.
The Tolliver twins cause a lot of tension in the school after appearing on a TV reality show where they act threatening and everybody fears they might harm the school. Though they never actively did anything wrong. No one expected that twisters would the the cause of destruction in the school and the turning point of the Tollivers’ reputation as they emerge as heroes after saving Yolanda after a long day of being trapped, undiscovered in the rubble.
Double Dutch is tense with excitement until the very end when the eighth grade team win the doubles section at the nationals and Randy discovers a paper in Delia’s bag. Since she couldn’t read she didn’t know that it was valuable positive information about his father.
In the end both have to confess their secrets, and both get help from those who care about them. This goes to show that hiding things never amounts to anything good and suffering through a disability alone, is never the only option.