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November 2, 2021

The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler by Karen Pokras ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

When my niece and nephew were younger they read some of Karen Pokras's books and I've read some of her adult books as well as her middle grades books. We have enjoyed everything we have read from her. I was excited to see a new book from her and had high expectations as her books are always well-written and the characters are fun, but also realistic.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler
November 2021; Kar-Ben Publishing; 978-1728412955
ebook, print (248 pages); Jewish fiction

The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler
 is set in the late 1970s. I would have been about a year old so I don't remember what the 70s were like, but if you were a kid at the time then this will be a fun, nostalgic read. 

I don't know if it is because I've been watching the remake of The Wonder Years on TV, but I got the same kind of vibe from this book as I do the show. The kids are just having a normal life - going to the movies, hanging out in the backyard, having family dinner, etc. But against this slice of life action deeper societal and life issues are explored. 

While trying to figure out if his piano teacher is an alien, spider, werewolf, white van guy who is attempting to kidnap children in nearby towns, Danny deals with anti-Semitism. Between the fun times of searching the skies for UFOs, discussing the Bermuda Triangle, and trying to set a trap for the piano teacher, more serious moments of racial discrimination are slipped in.

Danny's father has never been promoted at work even though he has long worked at the town's factory. Danny's sister claims she was given a bit part in the upcoming ballet recital because she is Jewish. This is probably the first time Danny has thought that being Jewish made him different and that others will treat him differently because of it. But he is about to get a firsthand experience of discrimination when his father gets a promotion though no one else at the plant gets one. The adults all believe he got it because he is Jewish. Of course, what the parents say the children hear, and then repeat by snubbing Danny at school.

When we think of discrimination in the U.S. we mostly think about discrimination against people of color. But, truly, the U.S. has a long history of discriminating against anyone they perceive as different ("they" could be just about anyone). Something that I didn't hear about in my history classes and learned while reading a book several years ago was that one of the reasons the U.S. was reluctant to join WWII was because of a strong anti-Semitic undercurrent in the political realms. 

I know my local news has aired several stories on pro-Nazi, anti-Semitism graffiti in schools. So this is not an issue limited to the 1970s. If you have children that don't understand this discrimination or are perhaps experiencing discrimination, then reading The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler would be a fun book to read together while also providing an opening for more serious discussions. You can have those discussions while making the provided cabbage roll recipe.

I'm many years past the target age of this book, but I still found myself laughing out loud (it startled the cat sitting on my lap) at one point. So if you decide to read it with your child or class at school, you will be just as entertained as the kids. Speaking of classrooms, this book could be used to hit many of your educational objectives in not only reading but history, social studies, math, and science.

Whether you are looking for an upcoming holiday present for a young reader or want something the family can read together during the upcoming school holidays, you will not go wrong with this book. There is something for everyone.

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour

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  1. Love that this book made you laugh out loud! I just checked, and Hoopla has this one, so I've added it to my favorites so I'll remember to read it.

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction