Why We Chose...The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

By Jacqueline Dembar Greene, illustrations by Doug Chayka

This book ticks so many boxes: the story is gripping, its focus is a Jewish holiday and it’s about an aspect of Jewish history that we don’t often see in picture books. Young Rafael’s father, Barcelona composer Don Fernando, is commissioned to write music to celebrate the Spanish colonies in the New World. But the Inquisition’s spies are everywhere, Rafael’s family are Conversos who remain secretly Jewish, and the concert takes place during Rosh Hashanah. Rafael and his father hatch an ingenious but dangerous plan to celebrate the Jewish New Year right under the noses of the Spanish nobility.

We welcomed the opportunity to send a wonderful book from the Sephardic tradition to families in the UK. We enjoyed reading about the Spanish Rosh Hashanah meal, so different from what is eaten in Ashkenazic homes. The illustrations, with their yellow and orange colour palette, give a real sense of the Mediterranean setting. The story itself, with its High Holy Days connection and its message of courage in the face of persecution, is uplifting and satisfying. That the tale of Don Pedro is a known legend is an added bonus, described in an author’s note. The Secret Shofar of Barcelona will intrigue parents just as much as their children, and is sure to spark many interesting family conversations.