I was thrilled when my friend Alyson Beecher, from Kidlit Frenzy, asked me to participate in a celebration blog tour to recognize the 10th anniversary of The Schneider Family Book Award. There was absolutely no doubt about what book I wanted to discuss. RULES by Cynthia Lord is by far my favorite Schneider winner, but it is also a huge personal favorite and a favorite with my 4th graders year after year.
RULES by Cynthia Lord Published by Scholastic Press RULES is important to me on a personal level. The book is about 12 year-old Catherine and her younger brother David who has autism. Catherine struggles throughout the book with making tough choices. She befriends Jason, a boy who is non-verbal and unable to walk. While she considers him to be a good friend, she is worried about what her other friends might think of Jason. Additionally, David can behave in ways that cause her embarrassment. This is a big deal for a preteen girl. Should she keep her friendship a secret? Should she be ashamed of her brother and keep him away from her friends?
My own daughter is 12 years old and has a younger brother who has autism. She loved this book, although she was a bit younger when she first read it. Finally she was able to see someone like her in a book. Catherine could relate to her feelings of love for her brother, but embarrassment and frustration at times with things our family might have to deal with. Her dedicated copy of RULES is among her most treasured possessions.
I am so grateful that Cyntha Lord wrote RULES. Throughout the past several years I have read it with many of my students. They all enjoy it, but I especially love when a student who has a sibling with a disability connects with it.
I'd like to share a photo. It is the handy work of my son TJ. If you have read RULES, you will understand it's significance.
No toys in the fish tank.
We are so very fortunate to have Cynthia Lord as a Maine author. She is talented and extremely generous in her support of literacy. I was lucky to talk with her recently about The Schneider Family Book Award and her experience. Her responses are in bold print.
There are many book awards given each year. Why do you think it is important to have an award such as the Schneider Family Book Award?
I met Katherine Schneider at ALA the year that Rules won a Schneider Award. She's an amazing person. She is also blind. She told me that when she was growing up, the only blind people that she saw in books were Helen Keller and Louis Braille. She said she wondered why all the blind people were dead!
We want children with disabilities to see themselves in literature, and we want children without disabilities to see those characters, as well. Books give a doorway into other people's lives and experiences, and people with disabilities are an important part of our world. This award encourages authors to write Schneider-eligible books and it encourages publishers to publish them.
Katherine Schneider sounds like a wonderful person indeed. It must have been exciting to meet her. Were there any other important moments at ALA?
I'll tell you one of my favorite moments at that Schneider luncheon, even though it had nothing to do with Rules. Just a couple weeks before ALA, we had to put our beloved dog to sleep because he was suffering. Katherine Schneider was sitting beside me and her guide dog, Ivana, was under the table at our feet. We were just making conversation and joking about how Ivana was probably hoping something would fall off our plates. Katherine asked, "Do you have a dog, Cynthia?"
I opened my mouth, but for the first time in nine years, the answer was going to be "no." And the word stuck in my throat. As I started to explain, I felt something and it was Ivana. She had come to me under the table and put her head in my lap. When I think of that day, that's one of the most powerful memories for me. A simple expression of deep kindness.
I think in some ways, the Schneider books are like that dog: reaching out to us in our need, showing us we aren't alone in our challenges. I think everyone has reasons they feel different in this world, and the Schneider books go beyond their subject matter to touch the place in us where we are all simply human.
And they remind us that all the blind people aren't dead. :)
Back L to R: Paul DeBois Jacobs, me, R. Gregory Christie
Front: Dr. Katherine Schneider and Ivana, her seeing-eye dog
(Paul and Greg are two of the team for The Deaf Musicians, the PB winner for 2007)
I'd love to hear about how you were notified and what was your reaction when RULES won the award in 2007?
The Schneider committee called my house the day before the award was announced--and I wasn't home! So they spoke to my husband and he called me and told me. I was at my mom's house celebrating her 80th birthday. "Drive CAREFULLY!" he said to me, because he knew I was super excited! I was sorry not to speak to the committee in person that day, but it was lovely to be with my parents to celebrate the news.
Tell me about the award ceremony.
My publisher, Scholastic, held a wonderful lunch for the Newbery and Schneider committee and then we had the Schneider luncheon and the award ceremony. Because Rules had won a Newbery Honor and a Schneider, I needed two fancy dresses. For the Schneider, I decided to honor the spirit of the award and see if I could buy that dress at Goodwill, which of course, employs people with disabilities. I found a gorgeous dark purple dress that sparkled. It felt like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Purple Dress Edition), because another woman had worn it for a special occasion and donated it, and now I was wearing it for mine. So after ALA, I brought it back to Goodwill so another woman could wear it, too.
Me in my Schneider dress.
Why do you think children should read books about people with disabilities?
I think they should read books that have all different kinds of characters, including characters with disabilities.
One thing about disability, though. Sometimes we think there's a firm line between people with disabilities and people without. But in the course of a long life that line is easily crossed. If you live long enough, you are sure to have some form of disability. So it's not "us" and "them," it's "now" and "later."
I am sure you have many stories of how RULES has affected the children who have read it. Would you share a favorite?
I have been very blessed: first to have a book published and then for it to have resounded with so many children. Nothing touches my heart more than those letters from siblings who read Rules and then felt comfortable sharing their experiences with me or with people in their lives. It's not always an easy conversation to get started. But starting with book characters (whose feelings we don't need to consider and who won't judge us for saying the wrong thing, etc.) can be the opening to those conversations. I can't even tell you how many parents have told me that their child read the book and then asked them to read it, too, so they could talk about it.
One day I got an email from a mom whose daughter had just been named a national winner in the "Letters About Literature" contest with a letter to me. She asked me if I'd be willing to write a quick congratulations to her daughter, Caroline, because they were going to surprise her at a school assembly with the news that she'd won and they'd like to read that congratulations. I read the letter Caroline had written to me (http://read.gov/letters/contests/winners/2009/letters/levelone-caroline.html) and it touched my heart. I wrote the congratulations letter, but I also signed a hardcover copy of Rules and overnighted it to her family so it could be there in time.
Her mom later told me that many times she came into her daughter's room to tuck her in at night and found her rereading Rules and that letter. It's one of the moments as an author where you see the power of a book to transcend you as the author, to matter in the lives of a family you've never met in a place you've never been.
RULES is sure to continue to be an important book for children. I would like to thank Cynthia Lord for sharing her experiences and thoughts about The Schneider Family Book Award.
Be sure to visit the other blog posts for The Schneider Family Book Award.
Nerdy Book ClubJuly 6, 2014 Kid Lit Frenzy
July 7, 2014 Nonfiction Detectives
July 9, 2014 There is a Book For That
July 11, 2014 Kahtie Comments
July 12, 2014 Disability in Kidlit
July 14, 2014 Librarian in Cute Shoes
July 15, 2014 The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
July 16, 2014 Read, Write, and Reflect
July 17, 2014 Read Now Sleep Later
July 18, 2014 Unleasing Readers
July 20, 2014 Maria’s Mélange
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