Teasing, bullying, roughhousing whatever you call it, it's a part of what many kids have to deal with on the playground. And more times than not, it's just plain mean. But what makes your everyday kid a bully? Is it a quest for attention or a misguided attempt at gaining friends? Alexis O'Neill explores this phenomenon in her latest book, The Recess Queen. O'Neill's playground pirate, Mean Jean, dominates the schoolyard. Everyone is frightened of her. Nobody swung until Mean Jean swung. Nobody kicked until Mean Jean kicked. Nobody bounced until Mean Jean bounced, the story goes. And nobody talks to Mean Jean, they just listen to her orders and cower amongst themselves. But when Katie Sue a teeny girl too new to know she should be scared of Mean Jean arrives at school, things change. Katie Sue kicks and swings and bounces before Mean Jean. When Mean Jean yells, Katie Sue talks back. And, as the schoolyard watches with bated breath, Katie Sue asks Mean Jean to play with her something no one had ever dared to do before. For the first time in her schoolyard career, Mean Jean, the Recess Queen, stops yelling and bossing and pushing and bullying, and just plays. She jumps and laughs and skips. She doesn't push or smoosh or hammer or slammer. She's having too much fun with her new friend. While O'Neill's depiction of the recess bully is somewhat farcical, it's not that far off base. Children do terrorize each other on the playground sometimes in jest, sometimes just to be mean. But even bossy kids aren't always as tough as they try to appear. Often, they just want attention or respect, and they don't know any other way to get it.
Through O'Neill's words and Laura Huliska-Beith's spirited, vibrant illustrations, we learn that all it takes to dethrone a recess queen is someone willing to see past her tough exterior. The truth is that most people would rather be liked than be feared. And when it comes right down to it, kids really just want to have fun. Heidi Henneman writes from New York City.