July 5, 2009

Book Review Week: The Recess Queen

Last week, I reread one of my favorite picture books The Recess Queen by Alexis O’Neill. It’s not one of my favorites because it’s well written and fun (although it is). Instead, I love it because everyone has known a Mean Jean like the protagonist in the story. She’s the kid who always swings first, kicks first, and bounces first -- and nobody says any different. If they do, Mean Jean will push ‘em and smoosh ‘em, lollapaloosh ‘em, hammer ‘em and slammer ‘em, and even kitz and kajammer ‘em!

So, here’s my story, and I’m sticking to it: The original recess queen was a girl named Martha Ann who lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin. I’m leaving out her last name because she might have grown up to be a very nice person. But, back then (And I’ll leave out exactly when), Martha Ann was not very nice.

Flash back to Jefferson Elementary School, third grade: Martha Ann and I were waiting to perform in the school Christmas concert along with the rest of our class. We sat on the hard stage floor until it was our turn to get up and sing “The Friendly Beasts.” (At least the beasts were friendly that day.) Back then (And I’m still not telling when), girls wore skirts to school and moms sometimes pinned handkerchiefs to the waistbands. (No! I’m not a hundred years old, and for those of you who have never heard the word “handkerchief,” it’s a piece of cloth used to sneeze or blow your nose into. Think ancient Kleenex.) Anyhow, after what seemed like forever, it was finally our turn to sing. I stood up. Martha Ann didn’t. Whether or not she knew that her chubby behind was firmly seated on my floppy, white handkerchief remains a mystery. RIPPPPPPP!!!! There I stood in front of the world and everybody with the left side of my skirt torn clean away. Martha Ann sat there, cross-legged, grinning as she looked down at the long strip of purple cloth spread on the floor beside her. I can still remember the laughter as our teacher led me offstage.

From that day on, I was Martha Ann’s target. When we went out for recess, she hid behind the playground door waiting to hammer or slammer me. (Of course she did it when no one was watching.) She pushed me and smooshed me. I’m not sure what it means to lollapaloosh or to kitz and kajammer someone, but I’m sure that Martha Ann did that to me, too. She was as mean as (if not meaner than) Mean Jean the Recess Queen. What I really needed was for a brave little kid like Katie Sue to show up.

Katie Sue is the antagonist in The Recess Queen. She’s the new kid in school, and she’s not afraid of Mean Jean. Although she’s a teeny tiny thing, Katie Sue swings before Mean Jean swings, kicks before she kicks, and bounces before she bounces. When Mean Jean grabs her by the collar to set her straight, Katie Sue gets in her face and says, “How DID you get to be so bossy?” Then she skips off and does her own thing, leaving Martha Ann (I mean, Mean Jean) in her dust. Oh, how I love that kid! After all that, Katie Sue says to Mean Jean, “Hey Jeanie Beanie, (which is too weird, because that was my nickname in elementary school) let’s try this jump rope out… I like ice cream, I like tea, I want Jean to jump with me!”

The Recess Queen ends happily when Katie Sue wins Jean over and gets her to play nice with all of the kids. Thankfully, Mean Jean is history.

I guess my story had a happy ending, too. Martha Ann moved away, and I found peace and acceptance at Jefferson Elementary School. Looking back though, I wish I had been even a little bit like Katie Sue. I’d have stood up to Martha Ann, talked right back to her, and not let her push me, smoosh me, lollapaloosh, hammer and slammer, or kitz and kajammer me....but, as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.

The Recess Queen is a great read and a must read for elementary-age Mean Jeans and potential Katie Sues. Most recess queens (and kings) are looking for acceptance from their peers. Thank goodness for the Katie Sues of the world who see through their tough exteriors and for authors like Alexis O'Neill who bring them to life.

Read about Alexis O’Neill on the Scholastic web site.

Visit Laura Huliska-Beth’s web page.

The Recess Queen
Written by Alexis O’Neill, Illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beth
© Scholastic Press 2002,
32 pages, ISBN 0439206375


Karen said...

The Recess Queen of our playground was Suzanne. She just switched her hammering to the emotional kind in high school.

Filed under: people I am glad are no longer in my life. :)