Big brother Wyatt pays more attention to his new bike than to Cody, who helped assemble it, but when it’s stolen, her jealousy turns to empathy—she’s just lost something precious herself.
Excited about her first sleepover, at Pearl’s, Cody—a little nervous—brings her beloved toy, Gremlin, for comfort. Smitten with Gremlin, Pearl elicits a trade, insisting Cody choose among Pearl’s valuable collection of plush endangered animals. Cody accedes reluctantly. Her misery grows as her attempts to reverse the trade are rebuffed. Finally, she steals Gremlin back, angering Pearl when she finds out. The titular rules concern honesty and tact. When does borrowing become stealing? What constitutes permission? Here, theme and plot are at odds. Pearl, depicted as Asian in the lighthearted illustrations (Cody is white), is endowed with “model minority” attributes: good student, talented musician, origami whiz, pretty, well-liked. She follows rules. “If Pearl were an animal, she’d be a star puppy in obedience school,” Cody reflects. Stereotyping aside, Pearl’s manipulations, on her own turf and later, counter that portrait. Cody’s held at fault for secretly stealing Gremlin back, Pearl merely for her indignant response, while her culpability in forcing the trade goes unmentioned.
These rules come with a powerful subtext that seems to say that theft is wrong, but manipulation may be acceptable. (Fiction. 7-10)