A look at the past with resonance for the present.

THE BACKYARD SECRETS OF DANNY WEXLER

A white van, the Bermuda Triangle, and undercurrents of prejudice: welcome to the ’70s.

It’s 1978, and 11-year-old Danny Wexler is Jewish (implied Ashkenazi) and living in a predominantly Italian American town. His mother, a nurse, and father, a factory worker, are discreet about their faith, but they are still outsiders: witness the consistent lack of promotion for Danny’s father despite his years of experience. Danny and friends Frank and Nicholas obsess over aliens and the Bermuda Triangle, especially after a boy from a nearby town disappears, supposedly snatched by a man in a white van; Danny and his friends even believe Danny’s piano teacher may be an alien and the kidnapper. But when that promotion finally comes through for his father, the town’s antisemitism also comes out into the open; Nicholas is prohibited from playing with Danny, while another boy starts calling him Matzah Boy, and Mr. Wexler arrives home with a black eye. Meanwhile, Danny, whose engaging voice anchors the novel, discovers that Mrs. Albertini, their elderly neighbor, is Jewish, and he begins to learn classic recipes—and understand the gains and losses of assimilation—from her experiences. This quick slice-of-life read with an upbeat, tidy ending examines what it is like to be othered and the anchoring force of friendship.

A look at the past with resonance for the present. (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-72841-294-8

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Kar-Ben

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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A deceptively simple, tender tale in which respect, resilience, and hope triumph.

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WISHTREE

Generations of human and animal families grow and change, seen from the point of view of the red oak Wishing Tree that shelters them all.

Most trees are introverts at heart. So says Red, who is over 200 years old and should know. Not to mention that they have complicated relationships with humans. But this tree also has perspective on its animal friends and people who live within its purview—not just witnessing, but ultimately telling the tales of young people coming to this country alone or with family. An Irish woman named Maeve is the first, and a young 10-year-old Muslim girl named Samar is the most recent. Red becomes the repository for generations of wishes; this includes both observing Samar’s longing wish and sporting the hurtful word that another young person carves into their bark as a protest to Samar’s family’s presence. (Red is monoecious, they explain, with both male and female flowers.) Newbery medalist Applegate succeeds at interweaving an immigrant story with an animated natural world and having it all make sense. As Red observes, animals compete for resources just as humans do, and nature is not always pretty or fair or kind. This swiftly moving yet contemplative read is great for early middle grade, reluctant or tentative readers, or precocious younger students.

A deceptively simple, tender tale in which respect, resilience, and hope triumph. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-04322-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit...

NUMBER THE STARS

The author of the Anastasia books as well as more serious fiction (Rabble Starkey, 1987) offers her first historical fiction—a story about the escape of the Jews from Denmark in 1943.

Five years younger than Lisa in Carol Matas' Lisa's War (1989), Annemarie Johansen has, at 10, known three years of Nazi occupation. Though ever cautious and fearful of the ubiquitous soldiers, she is largely unaware of the extent of the danger around her; the Resistance kept even its participants safer by telling them as little as possible, and Annemarie has never been told that her older sister Lise died in its service. When the Germans plan to round up the Jews, the Johansens take in Annemarie's friend, Ellen Rosen, and pretend she is their daughter; later, they travel to Uncle Hendrik's house on the coast, where the Rosens and other Jews are transported by fishing boat to Sweden. Apart from Lise's offstage death, there is little violence here; like Annemarie, the reader is protected from the full implications of events—but will be caught up in the suspense and menace of several encounters with soldiers and in Annemarie's courageous run as courier on the night of the escape. The book concludes with the Jews' return, after the war, to homes well kept for them by their neighbors.

A deftly told story that dramatizes how Danes appointed themselves bodyguards—not only for their king, who was in the habit of riding alone in Copenhagen, but for their Jews. (Historical fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: April 1, 1989

ISBN: 0547577095

Page Count: 156

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1989

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