Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Recess Queen

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The Recess Queen

by Alexis O’Neill and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

Publisher: Scholastic 2002

Ages: 4-7

Theme: Bullying

Opening and Synopsis; “MEAN JEAN was Recess Queen and nobody said any different. Nobody swung until Mean Jean swung.                                                                    Nobody kicked until Mean Jean kicked.                                                                         Nobody bounced until Mean Jean bounced.” 

Mean Jean held a reign of terror in the playground, where other kids hardly dared breathe let alone play, unless Mean Jean said they could. Mean Jean’s reign is jeopardized the day the oblivious, confident new kid, Katie Sue, arrives at school. As you can imagine, Jean was not amused and was not prepared to give up her place of Recess Queen without a fight. But Katie Sue, as sassy as can be, finds a way to turn that bully’s heart right around!

Why do I like this book? The language in this book will fair bounce the book right out of your hands! It skips and sings and jumps from page to page and is FUN to read aloud. From that opener, can’t you just picture MEAN JEAN? Laura Huliska-Beith does a fabulous illustrative job of mean expressions on Jean’s face and the sassiness in Katie Most of all, I love how it takes just one kid who is secure in her identity not just to challenge, but to befriend the bully. Bullying is a serious subject and this book doesn’t make light of it, but due to the humour, I believe it helps open up the subject for discussion in an effective way. This is a book that shows that bullies may nor be what they seem and they may need friends, as well as possible confrontation,  too. I think it is a book that can help reduce fear about playground bullying. It is great that it is a child, not an adult, that finds the solution.

Activities/Resources: This leads in perfectly into a discussion on strategies to deal with bullying and the genuine fear that can cripple us when faced with those bullies.

Reading Guide

Scholastic Teacher Idea Sheet

For more books and resources please check out Perfect Picture Book Friday on Susanna Leonard Hill’s Blog.

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38 Responses to Perfect Picture Book Friday – The Recess Queen

  1. I knew a Mean Jean in my day! What a super choice. The characters sound like they will live in the readers hearts long after reading the book. It also sounds like a read over and over book too.Will add it to our books. Seems like a great way to teach bullying. Which is very prevalent in our day. Even with homeschooled kids like ours.

    Have a great weekend. 🙂

    • Joanna says:

      She really is a little tyrant, this Mean Jean. But the truth is, even some very young children have learnt to scare others! I am glad her heart isn’t as bad as is first depicted. I think it is great to read an array of bullying books, with different conclusions, to kids. It is so prevalent, as you say, Robyn. Have a great weekend, yourself.

  2. I’ve heard of this book but I’ve never read it. Based on your review, I want to do that sooner rather than later. Great choice Joanna!

  3. Yes, this is a fun one. And a cute ending, too!

  4. Great selection Joanna. Love the language and the very strong message. I think we all knew a mean Jean at school. I like to see character’s like Katie Sue, who befriends the bully by getting to know her. This is one I’ll have to check out. Sounds like a self-esteem issue at the core. We posted similar themes today. Great review!

  5. This sounds like a fabulous book, and now of course I’m dying to know how katie Sue won out! I guess I’ll have to hie me to the library! 🙂 I’m always glad to add a book to the list that addresses bullying, seemingly an ever-growing problem. And this one sounds very fun – a way to get the message across in a way kids might hear. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  6. Sounds like a really great book Joanna, Doesn’t beat about (excuse the pun) the bush in letting you know up front who the tryant is. What we would give to have more Katie Sue’s about. Loved the message and thanks for sharing Joanna.

    • Joanna says:

      Katie Sue has just as much character as Mean Jean and is so full of life and healthy self esteem, that she isn’t going to let anyone spoil her fun! It is a fun way, Diane, to get across a serious message.

  7. My daughter’s school has been spending a lot of time talking about bullying. She is only in first grade. The school really believes that by talking about it early with kids it will help them when they are older. This book sounds like it would fit right in with what they are trying to accomplish.

    • Joanna says:

      I am so glad that this is the approach of your daughter’s school. I have to agree with them that preschool isn’t too early to start. This book would be perfect for a grade one class, Eric.

  8. What a great resource for helping our children learn to face their own “Mean Jeans.”

  9. Heather says:

    Mean Jeans are the WORST and every group seems to have at least one. I like the idea of a humorous and friendly solution to the problem. Thanks!

  10. Leslie Rose says:

    This book sounds like a charmer. Thanks for stopping by my blog. I’m off to explore yours.

  11. Loni Edwards says:

    “The language in this book will fair bounce the book right out of your hands! ” Wow! That line right there made me want to run to the library and see if they have it. This book sounds like FUN! I can’t wait to read it. Thanks for adding it to the list Joanna!

  12. Joanna says:

    Loni, I confess the rhythm and pace are a big part of the pleasure for me, in this book.

  13. Amy Dixon says:

    I love the first line of this book. Such a great example of communicating soooo much in a few words, and drawing you into the story. “MEAN JEAN was Recess Queen and nobody said any different.” Great choice!

  14. Beautiful choice, Joanna! This is a very serious issue in schools these days. There were always bullies, but something has happened to change the tone and level of it all…is it the home, the school, the media, the fact that there is so much violence that children are exposed to on a daily basis from such a young age…WHAT? I guess if someone knew the answer, the problem would not have escalated as it has. When a child is most unloveable…that is usually when he/she needs the most love. Maybe that is the solution in the story…I will have to get the book to find out. 🙂

    • Joanna says:

      Having worked in education for years, Vivian, I have to agree that there are usually some pretty serious needs in a bully’s life. That is not to condone bullying, but just to say that Mean Jeans often need some help.

  15. I shudder to think of my daughter having a Mean Jean when she starts grade school in the fall. I will definitely have to check this book out! Thanks for reviewing it.

  16. As a former teacher, (and a student!) I know that the playground is one of the easiest places to get bullied. This book is the perfect read aloud for primary grade teachers to read to their students. Bullying is something that must be discussed and addressed at school!

  17. This book sounds excellent. I’ve read quite a number of picture books about bullying, but hadn’t encountered this one. It seems that this one would really help kids think of positive ways to counter bullying as well as to open up discussion about the subject in a non-threatening way. Thanks, Joanna!

  18. This is a great book! I like the message that bullies aren’t always what they seem to be! I think some kids act bullyish because they don’t know how to be good friends.

  19. Yay for Katie Sue! This sounds like a perfect blend of good story and illustrations, humor, and a message that isn’t preachy. Someone should write one for adults, too!

  20. Joanna says:

    I love Katie Sue and I love how she is illustrated too!

  21. Bullying is such a serious issue and so prevalent in schools. This sounds like a wonderful book to use with children to broach the subject in a way that will invite discussion.

  22. Hi Joanna! I just met Alex O’Neill today at LA Writer’s Day. What a lovely woman. Now I have a signed copy of this fabulous recommendation. I am going to forward her your blog link.

  23. Joanna says:

    Kirsten, that is so exciting. Firstly so glad that you got to go to LA Writer’s Day and secondly, you met Alex O’Neill. Books take on a whole new dimension for me when I have met the author and/or illustrator behind the story! Thanks for sharing.

  24. Kathy Temean says:


    Thanks for posting this. If Alexis writes it, you can be sure that it is something worth reading. I just looked at Laura Huliska-Beith’s illustrations and see I should feature her on Illustrator Saturday. Looks like the perfect combination or story and art.


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