Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean by Jane Lynch, Lara Embry, A.E. Mikesall, illustrated by Tricia Tusa
Random House Kids
Rating: 5 stars
Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean will be known in some circles as “Jane Lynch’s picture book.” Jane Lynch, of course, is the actress who plays the biggest bully on television: Sue Sylvester on Glee. But that’s not entirely fair—it’s not just another book by a famous author. Marlene, Marlene, Queen of Mean is a good book in its own right, regardless of its famous author. The story is strong, the message is important, the rhyme sounds great, and the illustrations are fantastic.
Marlene is a little girl with a big, mean streak, who delights in getting her way with her classmates. She pinches, kicks, flicks, throws, punches, and pushes—basically all those things you tell your kids not to do. She gets her power from other kids’ fear. And she delights in it, but after one stunt, Marlene is greedy for more power. She reigns supreme in her school until one boy with a little courage dares to ask one simple question: “Why?”
Freddy wants to know why everyone is so scared of her, especially when only her shadow is large. He wonders why all the kids shrink instead of standing up for themselves. Freddy dares the kids to ask themselves: Is this true? Is Marlene so bad? He doesn’t have any sort of show down or fight with Marlene. In fact, I find his demeanor and stance in Tricia Tusa’s illustrations pretty fascinating and pretty brilliant. He is a relaxed guy who is thinking out loud, simply pointing out how silly it is that everyone is following her orders when they really don’t have to.
Marlene isn’t happy about this, but she proves Freddy right when she does the least bully thing ever: she cries. Conveniently sprinkled into this moment in the story is some magic: her tears melt all the bully-causing anger inside her and Marlene’s anger flies out of her in three giant sneezes.
While I don’t love this part of the story (because we all know the transformation from mean to kind happens a lot more slowly than a-choo, a-choo, A-CHOO!), I do like how Lynch and her two co-authors point out in the pages afterward how it’s sometimes easier to be mean than to be nice. I especially like these lines in the book:
You see, it’s a breeze to learn how to tease;It’s harder, sometimes, to be decent.
So true! In the end, Marlene ends up a whole lot nicer, but definitely not perfect. The text admits to her being “mostly cured” but there’s a picture of Marlene looking pretty darn delighted as she’s scaring a classmate with a gross bug. Perfect isn’t possible—it doesn’t even exist. So good for Marlene for sneezing out her bully-ness and becoming more decent. I would like to sneeze out some of my imperfections, too…
The fact that a famous author wrote this won’t hurt sales, but parents and teachers will pick this up and read it to their kids because of the fact stated above: it’s a strong story with an important message told in rhyming verse and the illustrations are fantastic.