Anna R. Beresin’s Recess Battles: Play, Fighting, and Storytelling was recently awarded the Opie Prize from the Children’s Folklore Section of the American Folklore Society. The judges comments from the award panel note that “the book combines advocacy and solid ethnographic proof to demonstrate the positive dimensions of social play when left in the hands of children themselves.”
Based on dozens of interviews with the children of the Mill School in Philadelphia, a racially integrated, working-class public school, Recess Battles is a moving reflection of urban childhood at the turn of the millennium. The children were videotaped at play from 1991 to 2004 and asked to offer comments as they watched themselves at play, raising questions about adult power and the changing frames of class, race, ethnicity, and gender. The grown-ups’ clear misunderstanding of the complexity of children’s play is contrasted with the richness of the children’s folk traditions.
David F. Lancy, author of The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs, Chattel, Changelings offers Recess Battles makes the point forcefully that adults observing recess grossly overestimate and misinterpret the violence and conflict that occur. So the “battles” among children on the playground lead to battles between those who would eliminate or tame recess and the children—who thrive on the opportunities for growth, interaction and sheer joy that only recess can provide.”
Recess Battles is at once an ethnographic study of lighthearted games, a celebratory presentation of children’s folklore and its conflicts, and a philosophical text concerning the ironies of everyday childhood. The book also includes never before published schoolyard games, as well as their transcriptions, descriptions, and history. The book is illustrated by black and white paintings done by the children themselves .
The Opie Prize is awarded approximately every two years to the author of the best recently published scholarly book on children's folklore. The award is named to recognize the lasting contributions of the British scholars Iona and Peter Opie to the study of children’s folklore.
Anna R. Beresin is associate professor of liberal arts at the University of the Arts. She has contributed articles to several books, including The Cultural Shaping of Violence and Children's Folklore: A Source Book. Her articles have also appeared in the journals Anthropology and Education Quarterly and Children's Folklore Review.