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.


Canadian Jewish News Kids

How one school tried to deal with bullying

By Leila Speisman, Canadian Jewish News Staff Reporter

One of the worst things that can happen to you in school is to be bullied. You feel as if you are helpless, as well as worthless.

There are many reasons that children are bullied. It may be because they are shorter than other kids, or taller, or smarter, less bright or less athletic. It may be for no reason at all – just a power trip for someone who can’t think of any other way to be in control.

Bullying can also be directed against someone from a different country, race or religion. That can really be upsetting, because, after all, those are things you can’t do anything about.

Paul Brown has been a teacher for a lot of years. He says that he “saw a lot of unfortunate stuff,” and feels the best thing to do about it is to educate people when they are still young and impressionable. He wants to show them “what it feels like to be on the other side.”

Brown has written a fine book called Shayna's Shadows (Educan Publishing, 1998) about bullying, and how one school tried to do something about it.

Shayna Rosen had to change from a Jewish day school to a public school because she was having difficulty with the double load of subjects. Her neighbour, Gilbert, told her the teachers were mean, the homework was terrible, everyone failed the tests, and the kids were snobs. Needless to say, Shayna was terrified.

When she got to the new school, she was pleasantly surprised to find that the teachers were very supportive, she could do the work, and the kids were very nice. At least most of them.

A small group, led by none other than Gilbert, had the student body terrorized, especially the minorities – blacks, Chinese, Vietnamese and Jews.

When Shayna tried to fight back (she punched one of the group in the nose!), they turned on her, calling her cruel names, chasing her, stealing her Magen David necklace, and at one point, forcing her to push an apple across the floor with her nose.

With the encouragement of the schoolteachers and administrators, as well as her rabbi and parents, Shayna takes a stand against the gang. The school begins an anti-racist program that includes making Gilbert attend a performance of The Diary of Anne Frank.

Most books for young people have a happy ending, making it look as if any problem can be solved in 200 pages. Shayna's Shadows is not like that. While Gilbert is made to at least think about what he has done, Brown makes no promises about his reforming.

Shayna’s friend Nadira offers an insightful explanation for his bigotry: “a lack of knowledge of others – you know, what they call stereotyping. Sometimes, though, it’s just an excuse people use to distract themselves from their own problems, or maybe to blame others for their own problems.”

While the book sounds serious, you will find a lot to enjoy in it, especially seeing Shayna change from a scared, insecure and easily intimidated girl to a determined person, with the courage to face her tormenters.

As well, the book is set in Toronto and is full of slices of local life, such as SkyDome, Union Station, the old post office, Young People’s Theatre, and, most importantly from a teenager’s point of view, Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

Paul Brown has created a website to give you (and your parents and teachers) more information about himself, the book and dealing with bullying, anti-Semitism and bigotry. You might want to visit it at