Rules of the House

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Rules of the House Book Poster Image
Spook-house fun in story about spatting siblings and rules.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Since kids' understanding of and relationship to rules is developmental, this can provide fodder for discussion about if and when it's OK to bend or break rules. Printed text in the art (signage, book titles) provides more opportunities for kids to read.

Positive Messages

Even though family members may annoy us, it's important to stick up for them and help them when they're in trouble. Sometimes it's OK to bend the rules if there's a good reason.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Ian tries hard to stick to the rules. He learns to bend them when it's necessary. Though the conflict between the siblings is very real, with older sister pinching younger brother and calling him "Toady," ultimately the two work together to dispel the monsters, providing a believable model for siblings learning to get along. Ian uses his smarts and verbal arguments to outwit the monsters and protect his sister.

Violence & Scariness

In the shadowy night, the scary things in the house really do come to life and threaten to eat the kids. The bear rug, claw-foot tub, and potbellied stove are cooking up a soup to eat Jenny, and the bear, sharp teeth dripping, is pictured hacking vegetables with a cleaver.


Older sister calls little brother "Toady."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Rules of the House reunites author Mac Barnett (Sam & Dave Dig a Hole) with illustrator Matt Myers, part of the author-illustrator comedy team who created the hilarious Battle Bunny. In this book, Ian and his older sister, Jenny, are the Felix and Oscar of siblings. Jenny plays fast and loose with rules while Ian's a buttoned-up, letter-of-the-law guy. When they arrive at their vacation house, Jenny violates all the posted rules, including "NEVER – EVER – OPEN THE RED DOOR." That night, when monsters arrive and threaten to eat the careless rule breaker, Ian realizes, "Even if there wasn't a rule that said ALWAYS SAVE YOUR SISTER FROM BEING EATEN BY MONSTERS maybe there should be." The moral, that blood is thicker than highly annoying sibling personality differences, will resonate with young readers and is delivered with a healthy dollop of spook-house fun.

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What's the story?

When Ian and older sister Jenny travel to their vacation house in the woods, Ian, a stickler for the rules, makes sure to pack a toothbrush and delights in finding a list of the RULES OF THE HOUSE posted. Jenny promptly proceeds to break the rules one by one, including the last one, "NEVER – EVER – OPEN THE RED DOOR." Though that one seems ominous, nothing happens until that night, when the dark, shadowy house comes to life, and the bear skin rug, claw-foot tub, and potbellied stove all threaten to eat Jenny because she broke the rules. Ian fends them off with his toothbrush and quick thinking, brandishing some clever verbal arguments about rules, which send the monsters packing. Did Ian break his own rules and tell a little lie? He was following the more important rule: "Always save your sister from being eaten by monsters."

Is it any good?

A scary vacation house in the woods comes to monstrous life in this fun, spooky story about siblings -- one follows the rules and one doesn't -- who drop their differences to combat the monsters. Readers will recognize the rivalries and irritations faced by these very different siblings, and many will also relate to the fear of the shadowy dark.

The spooky, dark-hued pictures of the house at night illustrate kids' fears that the bear skin rug really might come to life and try to eat them! This book treats the fears as real, and the kids triumph by using their wiles to dispel the actual monsters -- and also by bonding together despite their sibling differences. There are plenty of chuckles in the art -- for instance, the "Do Not Remove" tag Ian still has on his mattress. And the lesson that sometimes it's OK to bend the rules is well-earned.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about rules. Do you always stick to them? Do you think it's ever OK to break or bend them?

  • How does the art show that Ian and Jenny are different? What details in the pictures let us know that he cares about rules and she doesn't? 

  • Do you and your siblings or friends have wildly different personalities? How do you deal with that?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love getting along with siblings

Themes & Topics

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