The Secret Sho­far of Barcelona

Jacque­line Dem­bar Greene; Doug Chay­ka, illus.
  • Review
By – November 1, 2011
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.

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.

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