It was a Thursday evening; the last few minutes of the third and final Family Night Scholastic Book Fair. My middle daughter was turning ten in a week and I was looking for the perfect tween book to read to her out loud during the summer months. As I prepared to close the last bookcase display, I noticed one copy of a book I had been eyeing up earlier that week. I remembered what I had said to myself. If any copies are left before packing up, then this is the book for Juliet. And there it was. One copy left. All 587 pages of it. I scooped it up and dashed to the register. There are times in life when you don't choose a book; the book chooses you. And this was one of those times.
From the first page, Juliet and I were hooked. For a week,
I read out loud before bed until our yawns became contagious. Each night, we struggled to let go of the mysterious yet solemn story based around a charmed harmonica. We forced ourselves to mark the page and allow ourselves rest. But during the days, I found myself sneaking in her room tempted to read ahead while she was at summer camp. But I promised I would wait, so we could embrace the unfolding of the story together. I had every intention to keep that promise. But then everything changed. She was invited to Dallas to visit her four cousins. So, of course, she went and so did my self-control. The book mark was on page 172. I read the remaining 415 pages in two days. Yes, it's that good!
The story weaves three young characters together with an enchanted harmonica. A harmonica that sends a message of strength and vision and knowledge. First, in 1933 at Trossingen, Baden-Wurttemberg Germany, in the hands of a boy named Friedrich Schmidt. He is a musical genius destined for greatness. The only problem is he was born with a birthmark on half his face and with Hitler's Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring, Friedrich's future looks bleak. Especially since his father was sent to prison for befriending a Jew while his otherwise free-thinking sister joined the League of German Girls, aka Hitlerites. Has she really become brainwashed or is it her feigning attempt to keep peace?
Two years later, the harmonica finds its way to The Bishop's Home for Friendless and Destitute Children in Philadelphia. Mike Flannery and his younger brother, Frankie, had vowed to stick together no matter what. But finding couples who want to adopt two boys is nearly impossible. If separated, Mike would work for farmers and Frankie would live at the state home not fit for river rats. Mike loves music, especially the piano. His late grandma taught him to play but the music is a distant memory. At least he has the harmonica that gives melodies of hope. Will the boys ever have a family or will they be forced to separate?
Lastly, in 1942 Southern California, Ivy is preparing for her harmonica solo in her school music concert that will be played on the radio. But her father was offered an irrigation supervisor job and the family must relocate. Ivy doesn't get the chance to show off her harmonica skills but from the looks of things, there might be an opportunity for her to join the orchestra at her new school. Despite the move, life seems to be looking up. She even got a letter from her brother who is off fighting in the war. But things aren't what they seem and Ivy begins to learn that life can be cruel and unjust. Especially when she sees an army messenger heading toward her house. She knows he has news about her brother and chances are, the news isn't good.
I don't want to spoil the story by sharing how and why these three kids are connected but rest assured, you'll be surprised and delighted.
If you have a child age eight to eleven, you MUST encourage him or her to read this book. Or you should read it out loud. Pam Munoz Ryan takes storytelling to a new level. It has everything that makes a great story. . .fantasy, magic, music AND realistic fiction with the most heroic characters. Each character displays sacrifices that our modern-day society could only imagine. Our kids need to know these realistic characters and live in the time and place with them. WWII, Hitler, orphanages, sharecrop families, racism, segregation, and the Japanese-American relocation are the main subjects that entangle Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy, three outstandingly brave characters, together. You'll be a better person knowing them.
As for Juliet, she had a great time in Dallas. I confessed that I read the whole book without her. She forgives me but knowing her, she is making a mental note of hiding places to thwart broken reading promises in the future. I have resumed reading the book out loud and she is loving it. Echo will be The Book of Summer, 2017 in Juliet's memory. Mine, too.
The author also wrote Esperanza Rising which is another book I highly recommend for tweens.
Below are the first pages of Echo that sets the stage for the purpose driven harmonica. Don't forget to preview the book trailer by clicking the book image above. Enjoy!
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