José and the Pirate Captain Toledano
Set in the shadows of the Spanish Inquisition, this is the coming-of-age story of José Alfaro, a young refugee who forms a powerful bond with the mysterious Pirate Captain Toledano. It's also a dynamic pirate adventure on the high seas, with hand-to-hand combat and ship-to-ship action, and the powerful story of a dark time in history when people took different paths to survive.
José Alfaro is a cocky, rambunctious teen in the 16th-century colony of Santo Domingo, pulling pranks and dodging the authorities. One day, José's mischief lands him in serious trouble.
Hoping for a fresh start, he stows away on the Laqish, not knowing that it's a pirate ship. From his hiding place, he watches the pirates divide their loot and plan their attacks on long days at sea. He also takes note of the respect they have for their captain, the intimidating Toledano.
But the captain has a secret--like José, he is a Jew. For him, piracy is not about the gold; it has a different purpose.
Under the tutelage of the ship's quartermaster, José learns the intricacies of pirate life. But when he can, the captain finds ways to pull José away from the crew, to teach him about his ancestors.
José finds his community. His place. His voice. His purpose.
This is a pirate story, but also a story of survival--a story of a young man's deep need to know who he is, where he comes from, and where he's going.
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About the Author
Inspired by the 2017 short film The Pirate Captain, Arnon Shorr and Joshua Edelglass bring an exciting, kid friendly version of this story of Jewish Pirates. José can read and write and is called "an educated freak." He is a kid trying to figure out where he fits in and becomes even more confused when he finds out from his father that he is Jewish. His father fled Portugal to escape the Inquisition. However, the inquisitor has followed them to Santo Domingo and goes after Jose's father. In fleeing for his life, José boards the pirate ship the Laqish and discovers that the captain is also Jewish, and he has a vendetta against the inquisitor. Jose stays aboard the Laquish, learning to be a pirate, and helping Captain Toldedano in his quest for revenge. The graphic novel format highlights all the exciting swashbuckling adventures. This title includes a historical note and an author's note at the end. Readers who liked Jean Laffite: the Pirate who saved America by Susan Goldman Rubin, will also enjoy this title.-- (8/10/2022 12:00:00 AM)
"What a one-of-a-kind graphic novel! This distinctive, unique, and memorable story possesses all the right ingredients to make it popular with patrons of all ages. The setting is as important as the characters as it takes place on the fringes of the Spanish Inquisition. The story centers around José, a teenage boy living in the colony of San Domingo with his devoted father who encourages José in intellectual pursuits. Though his father is the treasurer of the colony, he is immediately arrested when the Inquisition discovers that he and José are Jewish. José narrowly escapes arrest and makes it to a pirate ship that belongs to Captain Toledano. Toledano is a wonderful, inspiring character for not only rescuing José, but eventually becoming a mentor to him. After revealing to José that he too is Jewish, Toledano begins trying to teach the boy the ways of their shared faith. Of course, José's main interest is in saving his father from prison, and Toledano wishes to punish the head of the Inquisition in San Domingo, a man who caused him great pain in the past. This is a wonderful adventure story and the graphic quality of it is exquisite. While it presents some heavy themes, this title is entertaining and fun for all and reminds a bit of Nathan Hale. The historical aspects of the story are educational, but the swashbuckling adventure details are on par with the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean. This was a must-have graphic novel for me on the story alone, but the artwork by Joshua Edelglass definitely adds to the overall appeal. He creates stunning panels with framing and visuals that feel cinematic and draw the reader into the story to such a degree that they will be sad to reach its conclusion. A wonderful adventure that just keeps on giving, this book is a work of art! Constance G. Pappas, Teacher-Librarian, Skyridge Middle School, Camas, Washington Highly Recommended --School Library Connection-- (8/1/2022 12:00:00 AM)
José Alfaro is a smart, mischievous teen who has always felt different from those around him yet yearns to be like everyone else. Unlike other children in his time and place, 16th century in the Caribbean, his father made him learn to read, write, and speak several languages, and let him help with his work as the colonial treasurer.
Then the Spanish Inquisition comes, in the person of Captain de Guzman, who arrives in Santo Domingo to repair his ship after an attack by pirates. While there, de Guzman makes wager that he will uncover a heretic before his ship is repaired. When the heretic de Guzman finds is José's father, José learns why he was raised to be different. José's father tells him they are hidden Jews who fled the Inquisition in Portugal when he was just a baby. Escaping de Guzman just in time, José stows away on the aptly named Pirate Ship Laqish. There he is saved by, and in turns saves, the Pirate Captain Toledano, himself a hidden Jew.
An expansion of a 2017 short film directed by the author, this historical graphic novel maintains a quick pace, holding the reader's attention. The twist of pirates as the good guys keeps the reader engaged, rooting for the pirates to win. Illustrator Edelglass ably uses graphic novel conventions to keep up this pace, using the film to inform the characters and costumes.
José and the Pirate Captain Toledano has everything a middle grade reader could ask for: action, adventure, pirates, challenges to overcome, and a satisfying ending. The book also has what the Sydney Taylor committee asks for: literary merit, positive and authentic Jewish religious and cultural content, authentic and accurate detail through research, even a capable, Jewishly knowledgeable illustrator. All in all, a rollicking read appropriate for the target age, presenting this less common story of Sephardic Jews, with an added touch of the diverse pirate crew and a sub-plot of the effects of colonization on native peoples.
Jews who chose to remain in Spain and Por-tu-gal after the fif-teenth-cen-tu-ry edicts of expul-sion faced two choic-es: they could con-vert and live as Chris-tians, or they could become mem-bers of the Church but secret-ly prac-tice Judaism. The sec-ond path was more dan-ger-ous, but even Jews who com-plete-ly denied their faith were sub-ject to racial-ly based anti-semitism. In Arnon Z. Shorr and Joshua M. Edelglass's graph-ic nov-el, a young boy and his father liv-ing in the Span-ish colony of San-to Domin-go try to steer a care-ful path between alle-giance to the Crown and fideli-ty to their reli-gion. As fast-paced and excit-ing as any pirate tale, José and the Pirate Cap-tain Toledano also explores dif-fi-cult ques-tions of iden-ti-ty, fam-i-ly, and becom-ing an adult under ardu-ous circumstances.
Some con-ver-sos (Jews who had con-vert-ed to Catholi-cism) tried to escape prej-u-dice in the New World, but the Inqui-si-tion pur-sued them there, as well. José Alfaro's father believes that his posi-tion as trea-sur-er will make him indis-pens-able. Out-ward-ly loy-al to the gov-ern-ment he rep-re-sents, Señor Alfaro edu-cates his son pri-vate-ly but still con-ceals from him the fact that he is Jew. José resents the lessons, believ-ing that his lev-el of knowl-edge caus-es local res-i-dents to resent him. José's rage remains just under the sur-face, ready to explode if he is pro-voked. His father's belief that he can keep his dig-ni-ty and still pre-serve his past is root-ed in des-per-a-tion. Both text and pic-tures stark-ly present the dilem-ma of char-ac-ters caught up in con-tra-dic-tions. As José tries to explain his frus-tra-tion, his father responds with anger; they rep-re-sent two gen-er-a-tions at odds with one anoth-er. With-out the miss-ing piece of their Jew-ish past, how could José make sense of his father's admo-ni-tion that "to be holy ... is to be different?"
Shorr's pirate scenes achieve the nec-es-sary bal-ance between adven-ture and char-ac-ter devel-op-ment. With-out roman-ti-ciz-ing law-less-ness, he reveals Cap-tain Toledano's role as a com-plex inter-ac-tion of his-tor-i-cal neces-si-ty and per-son-al choice. There is ten-sion between those who uphold cru-el and uneth-i-cal norms, and the out-siders who chal-lenge them by sub-sti-tut-ing an unsanc-tioned sys-tem of val-ues. Jews and oth-er mar-gin-al-ized peo-ples are forced to con-sid-er the con-se-quences of their actions, whether they accept unjust lim-i-ta-tions or fight against their oppres-sors. Grad-u-al-ly, as the sto-ry unfolds, José begins to under-stand why his father had encour-aged him to be dif-fer-ent, but only with-in seem-ing-ly arbi-trary bound-aries. The author also con-sid-ers the spe-cif-ic obsta-cles con-fronting women in the char-ac-ter of José's love inter-est, Rosa. The nov-el takes place in 1547, when the native Taino Indi-ans had almost com-plete-ly dis-ap-peared due to con-quest and dis-ease, but Shorr includes char-ac-ters who embody their trag-ic experience.
Edelglass's illus-tra-tions fea-ture mut-ed col-ors, exag-ger-at-ed facial expres-sions, and con-scious-ly cho-sen sound effects from the comics reper-toire (BOOM!, WHOA!, and FWOOSH make appear-ances.) In between, there are moments of still-ness and detailed beau-ty, such as Cap-tain Toledano hold-ing José's engraved sil-ver kid-dush cup in his gnarled hand as he stares fixed-ly at every-thing this rit-u-al object sug-gests about what Jews have lost. Swash-buck-ling heroes and anti-heroes, Jews, Chris-tians, and Indi-ans, all per-son-i-fy the costs of liv-ing in two worlds and strug-gling to remain free.