Every time I come across one of these stories (and there are a lot of them), it makes me feel a little peeved.
I work with kids. Kids with autism. If you're looking for kids who don't act quite normal, well, they're at the far end of the spectrum in the sometimes outright strange category. The oldest boy I work with just finished first grade. Even if the other kids couldn't have figured out there was something different about him, which is highly unlikely, the fact that he had an aid with him every day should have made it pretty obvious.
Was he teased? Yes. Ostracized? Heck no. He got invited to at least five birthday parties by kids in the class. One girl asked him to go roller blading with her after school a couple of times. He played tag with the other kids at recess, and impressed them with out fast he could spin a Bay Blade. He's doing okay.
I see a lot of 5-6 year olds working with the other kid, because I shadow him at the daycare. Every now and then a few girls will gang up on another girl or two and decide the others aren't worth playing with. This usually lasts at most an hour, and then they're all playing together again. Even the girl who tantrums and kicks and sucks her thumb on occasion.
When I worked with 8-10 year olds in the rec centre, I saw a little more of that sort of thing, the old 'we can't play with so'n'so because she's weird'. But even the weird ones had their own weird friends, and the "non-weird" ones weren't actually mean to them, they just didn't mingle a whole lot.
From my own primary school days, I don't remember any clichey-ness. There was no popular group until I got into junior high. There were no blond girls going around with little posses dictating who was cool and not. No one cared in grade one, or two, or three. Any squabbles were usually forgotten in the course of a day. I can't recall a single kid with whom I knew this is not a person to associate with if I want other people to like me, who had no friends at all. Things just didn't work that way, not in the early grades.
Am I just missing something here? Or is the first grade popularity demon really, as it seems to me, a total literary myth? And if it's a myth, where the heck did it come from? Surely most authors are not so befuddled that they mistake their junior high experiences for primary school ones. Who got this idea that six year old girls (or boys, though less often) are so awfully vicious? Petty, I can see; bratty, sure; but downright nasty... very seldom.