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.



Children’s book teaches lessons on prejudice

By Aliza Libman

Shayna's Shadows teaches that fun is not harmless when it is at the expense of others

“People are pretty much alike. It’s only that our differences are more susceptible to definition than our similarities.” - Linda Ellerbee

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.

Yeah, whatever.

Every parent says this cliché while their kids are growing up, and every kid who is old enough to think for him/herself knows that, well, sometimes adults can be full of it.

Name-calling, insults, and stereotyping can often hurt in ways that stone-throwers cannot begin to imagine.

Shayna's Shadows by Paul Philip Brown addresses the issues of bigotry and prejudice in a school setting. Shayna is a student in grade eight who encounters discrimination at school because she is Jewish and must find the courage to stand up to the bigots and bullies who have beaten other minority students into submission.

Brown, himself a teacher in the public school system for 30 years, wrote the book as an educational tool to help teach teenagers about the implications of what many consider “harmless fun.” Shayna's Shadows teaches that fun is not harmless when it is at the expense of others.

Shayna's Shadows is unique inasmuch as it goes beyond junior high school. The microcosm in the book is representative of the macrocosm of North American society. With so many people of so many different religions, nationalities, and cultures living together, stereotyping is bound to occur. The novel goes past the surface to the roots of bigotry.

Hatred, it seems, is not a disease in and of itself. It cannot exist in a vacuum – it must be caused by other things. Brown paints hatred as a symptom of fear and ignorance, used by people to oppress others, thereby distracting themselves from their own problems. The book illustrates the precise pitfalls of bullying. You can’t solve your own problems by picking on someone else, and you can’t expect to not be stereotyped if you stereotype others.

Shayna's Shadows springs from the belief that if people learn to focus on what they have in common instead of the ways they differ, they will be happier. The bullies learn a hard lesson – that they share many things with the people they pick on. After seeing The Diary of Anne Frank, Gilbert, the head bully, comes to realize that he is very much like Peter Van Daan, who, to Gilbert’s chagrin, is Jewish.

In our society, appearances are everything. People often make snap judgements without fully weighing all the contributing factors. Shayna's Shadows tells a fascinating story that effectively convinces the reader not only to look below the surface, but also contains the ever-satisfying principle ‘what goes around comes around.’

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