The Back­yard Secrets of Dan­ny Wexler

Karen Pokras

  • Review
By – October 6, 2021

Eleven-year-old Dan­ny Wexler has some imag­i­na­tion; space aliens, were­wolves, kid­nap­pers, and dis­ap­pear­ances in the Bermu­da Tri­an­gle fill his thoughts and bring about some pret­ty wild the­o­ries about the world in which he lives. Life feels uncer­tain and filled with dan­gers, even in his famil­iar small town. But one thing is not a fig­ment of Dan­ny’s imag­i­na­tion: anti­semitism. Anti­se­mit­ic feel­ings per­co­lat­ing through­out the town are very real and can­not be denied.

Dan­ny is the only Jew­ish boy in his school. When his father is threat­ened by anti­semites in the fac­to­ry while at work, and Dan­ny faces sim­i­lar threats by some of his class­mates and their fam­i­lies, Dan­ny must learn to dis­tin­guish real dan­gers from the imag­i­nary kind. A seri­ous chem­i­cal explo­sion at the fac­to­ry adds dra­ma but also sup­plies a cat­a­lyst for under­stand­ing and a focus for dis­plays of kind­ness and car­ing, help­ing the cit­i­zens of the town draw clos­er and begin to move beyond sus­pi­cion and fear.

This fast-paced sto­ry, although filled with humor, is built on a foun­da­tion of neigh­bor­ly bonds and mutu­al assis­tance. Dan­ny, his fam­i­ly, and his clos­est friends are sym­pa­thet­ic and like­able. Some of the town’s res­i­dents are will­ing to learn about them­selves and one anoth­er in spite of deeply root­ed prej­u­dice and lay­ers of mis­un­der­stand­ing. Read­ers will be enter­tained but will also come away with food for thought and mate­r­i­al for seri­ous dis­cus­sion with class­mates, teach­ers, and par­ents as they read about an imag­i­na­tive boy and the world in which he, and all of us, live.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

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