Ellen G. Cole, a retired librarian of the Levine Library of Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, is a past judge of the Sydney Taylor Book Awards and a past chairperson of that committee. She is a co-author of the AJL guide, Excellence in Jewish Children’s Literature. Ellen is the recipient of two major awards for contribution to Judaic Librarianship, the Fanny Goldstein Merit Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries and the Dorothy Schroeder Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries of Southern California. She is on the board of AJLSC.
The Secret Shofar of Barcelona
Talented children’s author Jacqueline Dembar Greene mixes a high holiday with scary Jewish history during the Spanish Inquisition in a little known Sephardic legend. The conductor of the Barcelona Orchestra is a Converso; he will lead a concert celebrating the Spanish colonies on the first night of Rosh Hashanah. When the musician introduces strange native instruments from the New World, he plots to slip the shofar in among them, then blow it for the Jewish New Year, assuming only other Conversos in the audience will recognize the ram’s horn. His son shares the secret of their Jewish identity and the youth offers to blow the shofar, which he practices in the fields amidst grazing sheep. On the night of the concert the secret Jews are thrilled with the brave, rare observance of their holiday. In a tense ending to this dramatic holiday historical fiction, the Spanish duke calls the musician forward. Luckily, the duke does not recognize the Jewish religious object. The Jews are safe to play the shofar as a native horn the following year! Muted art in greys and browns perfectly realizes this story of whispers and secrets. An opening paragraph clearly explains the Inquisition to the picture book crowd. A warm end note stresses this book rests on an old legend no doubt born of wish fulfillment. It is a heroic act far too dangerous for father or son to have really tried, no matter how good they are hiding in plain sight. For ages 6 – 10.
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