What the World Needs Now: More Cynthia Lord Books

Great news!  I can’t blog about my favorite middle grade books of 2012!  My role as Cybils judge is officially underway; I have to keep my ’12 opinions under wrap.  What’s so great about that?  It gives me a chance to share favorite books published before 2012– I’m so backed up!  I know Christmas is over, but I’m making a last ditch effort at my 12 Days of Books initiative.  For the Third Day of Books, I present Cynthia Lord and her 2006 novel RULES (Scholastic).

Warning:  Cindy Lord is one of my personal heroes.   That’s what’s taken me so long to write about her work.  I mean, she’s been on my list since I started Feeding the Flashlight over two years ago, but how to write about her without coming off like a complete gushing idiot?  Well I can’t, so let’s just get over it and move on.

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A more perfect cover has yet to be made for a middle grade novel.

From Amazon:  Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”—in order to head off David’s embarrassing behaviors.
But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a surprising, new sort-of friend, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?

First off, I know something about what it is to have a son with autism, as Cindy does.  And I know what it’s like to try your best to raise him alongside his typically-functioning sister, while also doing your best to raise her, which Cindy also knows.  It can be very frustrating for everyone.  The rewards parents of kids with autism feel for each tiny step of progress, well, those rewards are often lost on the typical sibling, who’d pretty much rather melt into the wallpaper than have to be seen with her brother anywhere, but especially anywhere that her peer group might be.  What pushes Cindy into my Circle of Heroes is that she took that thing— the setback of a devastating diagnosis, the heartbreak of any parent, the day-in, day-out challenge of autism– and turned it into RULES, the beautiful story of a girl learning to accept her brother’s differences.  When my daughter finished reading it (the first time), she said, “Mom, it’s like Cynthia Lord wrote that book just for me.”  Seriously, I get a case of wet-eye just thinking about it.

RULES feels like a gift to me, too.  Part of the challenge of having a child with significant autism is the acceptance.  It doesn’t matter if you are the parent or the sibling, the grandparent.  This kid is not going to follow the path you thought. Which means your life isn’t either.  Captain of your own destiny?  I think not.  In the story, Catherine learns to accept there are things she cannot change about her brother, and I’d wager that’s something Cindy learned from her own son, just as I have learned from mine.  Some things are bigger than us and any plans, or rules, we can make.  The fact that Cindy could share her wisdom with such clarity while living in the thick of it all is a true marvel to me.

In the end, RULES celebrates and honors families that face autism every day, bringing them into daylight for the droves of kids that may otherwise never consider what such a life is like.  For that alone, RULES’ numerous awards are more than well-earned.  I mean, forget Newbery medals– we’re talking angel’s wings here.  But, it’s also a book that encourages empathy for all sorts of differences.  It invites readers to question the importance of popularity and to define true friendship.  Right about now, doesn’t that just sound like what the world needs?

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Are you kidding me?? Another gorgeous cover for Cindy’s second novel TOUCH BLUE (Scholastic, 2010).  Indeed, another gorgeous read.

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