Book Review: Recess Rules by Jill Vialet

Recess Rules by Jill Vialet is a middle grade novel about the importance of play, and being willing to take the biggest and most important risk of all, caring. After losing her parents at the age of 8, life hasn't been the same for Cassie Murphy. Now a fifth grader, Cassie and her three friends, Zee, Toni and Bryant, are trying to make the best of things but all the fun has been sucked out of recess. Between fewer students on the blacktop and Marcus Mackey’s need to bully, Cassie and her crew are about to give up on their beloved recess. The friends get help from an unexpected place, an “angel-on-probation” named Clarence is sent to earth to help them fix recess. The plan is just starting when the Superintendent plans to eliminate recess altogether. Cassie and her friends are devastated, but they realize they have just one shot to convince the Superintendent that recess is important. Clarence helps Cassie learns to care enough to try to change things for the better.

Recess Rules is a story that can speak to parents, teachers, and children. Cassie is a girl that has learned about loss the hard way, and has trouble letting go and caring about much. She does not want to bother anyone, not even her Aunt who is caring for her after the loss of her parents. Her friends and winning are among the few things left that she really cares about. Clarence is an angel with similar lessons to learn, and they teach each other as the story unfolds. I really liked the dynamics of the friends' personalities and their interactions with the adults in their lives. While occasionally an adult is a little goofy or might seem mean in the story, they do not fall into the trap of being one dimensional or the typical problem adults within the story. Even the bully, Marcus, and his mother are well fleshed out and show some depth and growth in the story. The games introduced in the story were a fantastic element, and might be just the draw for a young reader that enjoys teaching (or winning) games on the playground. I will admit to skimming some of the game explanations within the story, but I will keep the book handy for when my kids and their cousins get together and need some cool games to play outside.

I would recommend Recess Rules to middle grade readers that like playing games, realistic fiction, and stories about coming into your own. The characters are very real, with flaws and good qualities in each, and a situation that I would not doubt is happening on some level at a school right now. There is a detailed playbook included at the end of the book, giving every detail you might need to teach others to play the games used in the story.

Meet the author:
Jill Vialet is the CEO and founder of Playworks.  Jill has won a number of awards for her work with Playworks, including the Ashoka Fellowship, the Forbes 30 Leading Social Entrepreneurs, the James Irvine Award and the Women's Sports Foundation's 40 for 40.  Jill grew up in Washington, DC where she played in epic games of Capture the Flag as a child. She now lives in Oakland, California with her family. Recess Rules is her first book. For more information on Jill and Recess Rules please visit her website here.
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