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The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

5.0 1
by Jacqueline Dembar Greene, Doug Chayka (Illustrator)

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Judy Silverman
This is a very well-thought-out story for slightly older picture book readers. The introduction explains a good deal of what was going on in Span in 1492 (and beyond), and is a very necessary part of the story. And the author's end note gives us a definite time frame—the late 1500s. Don Fernando, the Duke's official musician, has been commissioned to compose a new concerto in celebration of Spain's new colonies. Don Fernando's son Rafael, upon learning that his father's music will include the sounds of Native American instruments, suggests that since it is the evening of Rosh Hashanah, an appropriate addition would involve adding the sounds of the shofar! This could be extremely dangerous, since as far as the authorities know there are no Jews in Spain. But Rafael convinces his father that "hiding something in plain sight" would actually work. And so it does—the Duke is fascinated by the strange instruments and actually tries to blow the shofar! The lovely illustrations take us right into Barcelona. The only objection that I see is on the cover—Rafael is shown carrying the shofar in a public square, and he would never do that—it would be visible to everyone, and even if most of the population did not know what it was, the Inquisition certainly would, and the Inquisition was everywhere. Recommended. Reviewer: Judy Silverman
School Library Journal
Gr 2–5—Don Fernando is a converso, a Jew who practices his religion secretly during the time of the Inquisition. He is also a respected composer, and he writes a symphony to celebrate Spain's colonies in the New World using Native American instruments. His son convinces him to include a shofar among the deer-toe rattles and leather drums so that the conversos can hear the traditional sound of the ram's horn on the Jewish New Year, which coincides with the concert. The dangerous plan proves successful: the Duke loves the symphony, and Spain's secret Jews retain an ancient tradition. Based on a legend, this intriguing slice of converso life offers a thoughtful hero and a suspenseful plot. The warm, opaque paintings are expressive and create a strong sense of place. Although the religious significance of the shofar is never explained, the story conveys its emotional pull for Jewish listeners. Themes of cultural identity and empowerment under oppression will appeal to readers of all backgrounds.—Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
Kirkus Reviews
Among Spain's secret Jews-conversos-were well-educated merchants and professionals who worked and lived within the medieval Catholic society yet found ways to clandestinely practice their forbidden, ancient faith. When Don Fernando, the conductor of Barcelona's Royal Orchestra, himself a converso, plans a new concert for the nobility, he devises a way to include a piece sporting exotic instruments made by the natives from the New World. It is fall and just in time for Rosh Hashanah, so with son Rafael's bold complicity, the shofar, or ram's horn, is included to sound the four distinct notes that usher in the Jewish New Year. Basing her tale on legend, Greene provides a smooth, suspenseful view into a rarely depicted portion of Jewish history, when Jews led a dual life and managed to maintain their Judaic rituals by blending in or hiding their beliefs and traditions, sometimes in plain sight. Chayka's deep, opaque paintings reflect an upper-class, dark-haired Iberian society juxtaposed with the Judaic rituals of the Rosh Hashanah meal. (introductory, author's notes) (Picture book. 6-10)

Product Details

Kar-Ben Publishing
Publication date:
High Holidays Series
Product dimensions:
8.50(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.40(d)
760L (what's this?)
Age Range:
6 - 9 Years

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The Secret Shofar of Barcelona 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
storiesforchildren More than 1 year ago
Do you know what a shofar is? It is a musical instrument that is made from a ram's horn and used by Jewish people. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand decreed that everyone in Spain must be Catholic. Most people of other faiths were forced to leave the country or convert. Some Jews who remained and pretended to follow Catholic ways were called "conversos" and had to hide their religion from the Inquisition. There is a legend about one such converso named Don Fernando Aguilar, who was a famous composer and/or conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona in the late 1500s, and this book is based on that legend. Author Jacqueline Dembar Greene notes, "While such a man may have existed, there is no mention of him in history books. Nor is there record of a Royal Orchestra. But music was an important part of Spanish life." Rafael Aguilar was listening to a new piece that his father had composed and was to conduct at a concert celebrating Spain's colonies in the New World. It had parts for many strange instruments that were used by the natives of those colonies. At the same time, the Aguilars and their friends were planning to hold their secret observation of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, since it would appear that they were only celebrating the festival. Rafael had the idea of including a part for the shofar as a "native instrument," saying, "Maybe it's safest to hide the shofar in plain sight," so that hearing it would encourage the Jews. But who would be brave enough to play the shofar in public, and would they be able to get away with it? With period-appropriate illustrations by Doug Chayka, The Secret Shofar of Barcelona will be of special interest to Jewish children, but it is a well written story that all youngsters should enjoy reading.