"What do the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, a telescope, spy notebook, a hairy fingered piano teacher, and a suspected kidnapping have to do with each other? When Danny Wexler lets his overactive imagination combine them, readers will quickly engage in The Backyard Secrets of Danny Wexler. Eleven year-old Danny Wexler is the only Jewish boy in his blue-collar town. He recounts his experiences in such a believable middle school voice that his ridiculous misconceptions about life seem just as plausible as his achingly real encounters with an anti-Semitic bully in school. He makes two good friends, even though one has to sneak visits to Danny’s house because his mom doesn’t want her son hanging out with a Jewish boy. Readers will laugh out loud, or at least roll their eyes like Danny’s teenage sister, when they read how he convinces his friends that space aliens will land in his backyard when they’re contacted through a musical code. Danny and his friends are certain aliens are somehow connected with the Bermuda Triangle theory and a reported kidnapping by someone driving a white van. Many people in the town are employed at the fiberglass factory, where there is growing antisemitism. Danny’s dad hasn’t received a promotion in 20 years, something he attributes to the bosses’ dislike of Jews. Danny confides in an elderly neighbor who turns out to be Jewish. She helps him make sense of his many relationships, with gentle humor and wisdom. When his father is threatened by anti-Semites at work in the factory, Danny begins to realize the difference between imaginary and actual dangers. A serious explosion at the factory brings townspeople together as victims and helpers; people begin to understand each other and move beyond prejudice. Danny realizes some of his misunderstandings, and even the school bully pitches in. This fast-paced story, humorous, yet touching, may be a 'hard sell' with its childish looking cover. But make no mistake, there is much to think about and discuss. Characters are well drawn, with rich and believable emotions. The author skillfully weaves many disparate threads to create a clever and entertaining fabric of community." — Debbie Colodny, AJL Newsletter—Magazine
"Eleven-year-old Danny Wexler has some imagination; space aliens, werewolves, kidnappers, and disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle fill his thoughts and bring about some pretty wild theories about the world in which he lives. Life feels uncertain and filled with dangers, even in his familiar small town. But one thing is not a figment of Danny’s imagination: antisemitism. Antisemitic feelings percolating throughout the town are very real and cannot be denied.
Danny is the only Jewish boy in his school. When his father is threatened by antisemites in the factory while at work, and Danny faces similar threats by some of his classmates and their families, Danny must learn to distinguish real dangers from the imaginary kind. A serious chemical explosion at the factory adds drama but also supplies a catalyst for understanding and a focus for displays of kindness and caring, helping the citizens of the town draw closer and begin to move beyond suspicion and fear.
This fast-paced story, although filled with humor, is built on a foundation of neighborly bonds and mutual assistance. Danny, his family, and his closest friends are sympathetic and likeable. Some of the town’s residents are willing to learn about themselves and one another in spite of deeply rooted prejudice and layers of misunderstanding. Readers will be entertained but will also come away with food for thought and material for serious discussion with classmates, teachers, and parents as they read about an imaginative boy and the world in which he, and all of us, live." — Michal Hoschander Malen, Jewish Book Council—Website
"Danny Wexler is a middle schooler with two best friends, a family, and an elderly neighbor that are central to his life. The relationship between Danny and his sister is typical, and his relationship with his parents influences many of the questions and actions Danny takes. The relationship he has with his elderly neighbor is at once endearing and precarious, acting as a catalyst for how Danny interprets and understands many of the events that occur in his life. However, it is the relationship with his friends that will draw readers to him. The group is quirky and real; teaching Danny about life and the different perspectives that surround him. Karen Pokras does an excellent job of realistically conveying the perspective of a middle schooler. She captures Danny's use of imagination vividly, without making him sound silly. She also realistically portrays the microaggressions Danny and his family encounter as a result of anti-semitism as well as the confusion they cause for a young man who is growing up and facing a world that is not always kind to him. Highly recommended." — Maria J. Sexton, Library Media Specialist, Douglas High School Library, Douglas, Arizona, School Library Connection—Journal