Shayna's Shadows

Shayna's Shadows by Paul Philip Brown

Calling people names:

Is it harmless fun?

Or is it a dangerous first step towards bigotry?

Shayna's arrival at Pierre Elliott Trudeau Junior High School begins well until her Jewishness attracts the wrong kind of attention. Gilbert and his friends seem to be lurking everywhere, and it doesn't look as though they'll ever leave her alone.

From Yorkdale Shopping Centre to the underground city beneath Toronto, from SkyDome to the Young People's Theatre, Shayna struggles to find the courage to confront her tormentors before their hurtful prejudices overwhelm her.

Union Station

Jewish Tribune

Shayna's Shadows explores issues faced by young students

By Rosalie Kurz

It's "Back to School Time." One commercial on television depicts this to be the "most wonderful time of the year" for parents. Many students may look forward to going back to school for more than the obvious reasons.

The book Shayna's Shadows, written by Paul Philip Brown, a Toronto teacher (Educan Publishing), deals with many issues facing young students today. Learning disabilities, racism, making friends, relationships with parents and trusting adults are all touched upon. This book may be especially important to the many students who are dealing with any form of anti-Semitism, from subtle to violent.

Shayna's Shadows is about a girl in junior high who has previously only attended a Hebrew Day School who must now exchange this safe environment for a public school and the unknown. Shayna has a learning disability that is not uncommon among today's pupils. For this reason she must go to a public school where she can more easily handle the single curriculum, rather than the more burdensome double program of Hebrew and English studies.

Shayna comes from a home filled with love of tradition. For non-Jewish students these traditions are explained in great detail. At school she runs into her neighbour, Gilbert, with whom she has had very few encounters, aside from one conversation before school began. Gilbert is convinced that all teachers "pick on" him. As a result, Gilbert is the school bully. He does not like Jews. This becomes obvious as he greets Shayna at school:

"Well, well, if it isn't the little Jewess. You're going to get a new name. From now on we're all going to call you Juice, just so you don't forget who you are . . . I wish all you Jews would go back to Jewland where you came from."

Things deteriorate as Gilbert and his friend tear off her Star of David necklace and beat her up. Moreover, Shayna and Jessica, her new best friend, overhear Gilbert and his friends discussing the theft of paper in the school. Shayna enlists the help of a teacher and Jessica to resolve all the issues. Everything is then dealt with at the school level by the administration, who have a great deal of compassion for what Shayna has been put through. As well, her teachers have aided her to overcome her learning disability and gain confidence in her schoolwork.

As well as a brief look at the history of Toronto, many issues that students face are touched upon in this book. Brown has observed, firsthand, what students undergo at the junior high and high school levels.

This book can be a very important learning tool in dealing with anti-Semitism. Shayna has enlisted the aid of teachers, which is important to illustrate how to use support within the school system. This is all very timely as anti-Semitism is at a fever pitch, both abroad and here in Toronto. It is very important that students, parents and teachers realize that this will simply not go away, and that it is not within the range of "normal" behaviour. It can be and must be dealt with at every level.

If Shayna's Shadows helps but one student, it has served a useful purpose.

Rosalie Kurz is a teacher with the York District Board of Education.