Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan

echoOnce upon a time, a boy called Otto is lost in the Black Forest.  As he wanders, he stumbles upon a grove of trees containing three sisters who tell him a tale of castles, lost family, a witch, and a magic spell that has trapped them inside an enchanted harmonica.  Only saving the lives of three souls will free them…

Germany, 1933.
Young Friedrich Schmidt loves music with his whole soul.  It provides him with a much needed escape from the prying eyes of his neighbors and bullying taunts of his peers – when Friedrich is listening to music, playing his harmonica, or conducting an imaginary orchestra, he can lose himself and forget all about the birthmark covering one side of his face.  It also helps to take his mind off the frightening new laws and restrictions that have come along with the appointment of Germany’s new chancellor, Adolf Hitler.

Friedrich, his father, a cello teacher who once played in the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, and his uncle Gunther, an accomplished accordionist, are excitedly awaiting the return of his sister Elizabeth from her nurse’s training and are also celebrating the recent retirement of Father from the harmonica factory where Friedrich is apprenticing alongside Uncle Gunther.  But when Elizabeth returns, full of excitement with the news that she has joined the Hitler Youth, Friedrich’s horror at his beloved sister’s new ideas and ideals and Father’s less than supportive words set into motion a series of events that will put them all in great danger.

Pennsylvania, 1935.
After the death of their mother and grandmother, Mike Flannery and his little brother Frankie are taken in to a less than comforting orphanage.  The only saving grace is the battered, out-of-tune piano Mike and Frankie play in a few snatched minutes after meals.  When the headmistress announces the younger boys will be sent to the state home in order to make room for older boys who can be hired out and turn a profit, Mike knows he’ll do anything to keep his brother with him.

When a lawyer calls at the orphanage looking for children with musical talent, Mike is thrilled at the chance to get Frankie out.  But he’s sure that being adopted by a wealthy concert pianist in the middle of the Great Depression is too good to be true.  There’s something fishy about the whole thing, and Mike is going to get to the bottom of whatever scam she’s running – as long as he can keep Frankie safe.

California, 1942.
Ivy Lopez is not interested in moving – again.  They’ve been in Fresno for a year, the longest they’ve stayed in one place for a long time, and it’s the first time she has a real friend – a best friend.  She will miss the harmonica concert her class is scheduled to play on the radio next week – and her solo.  And besides, if they move, how will her brother Fernando, who is serving in the United States Army, find them when he comes home from the war?

But Papa has a great opportunity in Orange County, outside Los Angeles – to become the caretaker of an orange farm whose owners, the Yamamotos, have been confined to an internment camp for the duration of the war.  According to the United States government, and some of the Yamamotos’ neighbors, Japanese Americans are a threat to the security of the United States, despite the fact that the Yamamotos’ son Kenneth is serving in the Marines for the United States.  If Ivy’s father does not care for the oranges and the farm house while the family is gone, the property will be confiscated and sold.  Ivy faces many challenges in her new home – segregated schools, suspicious neighbors, and terrible prejudice.  Will she be able to stay strong and keep her family together like the good little soldier Fernando asked her to be?

How these four stories all come together is positively orchestral.  I listened to the audio recording of this book, and the music (cello, piano, voice, flute, and a lot of harmonica!) made the experience absolutely magical.  Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy’s stories held me spellbound and extremely reluctant to get out of the car whenever I arrived at my destination, and I only wish that my time with these three strong, loving families had been longer.  Don’t miss this 2015 Newbery honor title – author Pam Muñoz Ryan has long been a favorite of mine, and Echo is another spectacular star in her crown of dazzling books.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war that savedAda has never left her tiny, one-room London flat.  She has never seen grass, or a train, or the sea, or a horse.  The only people she speaks to are her little brother, Jamie, who she loves more than anything, and her Mam, who she feels like she should love, but doesn’t.  According to Mam, Ada is a cripple with her clubfoot – useless, ugly, stupid, and shameful, and Ada has never experienced anything that would tell her otherwise.  She can’t walk, or read, or write, or even know how old she is, but she can take care of Jamie.

It is 1939, and Hitler is rising in Germany.  The war is coming and so are the bombs, so England begins to evacuate its children to the country in Kent.  When Jamie comes home and tells Ada that he’s to be evacuated the next morning, Ada knows she has to go with him, clubfoot or no.  If Jamie leaves and she’s left alone in the flat with Mam, she’ll die – either the bombs or Mam will get her.  And so, the next morning, while Mam is sleeping, Ada somehow manages to slide downstairs and outside for the first time, and then drag herself to the schoolyard with Jamie, board a train, and escape.

The two are taken in, extremely reluctantly, by Miss Susan Smith, who has no experience with children and is in the middle of a terrible grief after the death of her best friend.  Miss Smith may not know anything about children, but she has a house with two stories, sheets, plenty of food, warm clothes, a pasture and a pony (oh! a pony!) and a bigger heart than she or Ada knew could exist inside of one person.

OH, this book!  A 2015 Newbery honor title, this book deserves a billionty stars, hearts, and hugs.  Love and friendship and community and heart and hope shine through the pages of this book, overwhelming the imminent threat of war, spies, neglect, abuse, poverty, and bombs.  It’s about all the ways we save ourselves and save each other, and I loved it with my whole heart.  I only stopped reading Ada’s story to sleep, and when I was done, I had to take a few minutes to gather the scattered shreds of so many of my feelings back up into myself.  This incredible little book has something for everyone, no matter how old you are, so hurry to the library and check it out!

A big thank you to Sunnyside librarian Susan Richardson for recommending this amazing title before it won a Newbery honor – thanks to her, I felt very in-the-know when the awards were announced last Monday!


Browse the full collection of magazine titles

Heard of Flipster?  No?  Well, be prepared to love it!  Flipster is an app for checking out magazines digitally through the library.  Imagine being able to read magazines instantly on your phone, tablet, laptop or home PC.  Not only read them, but click on live links to access additional content, be taken directly to an advertiser’s web site, instantly enlarge the font size of what you’re reading; the list of advantages to reading magazines digitally goes on and on.  The library recently expanded our Flipster subscriptions to include popular titles such as Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Women’s Health, Real Simple and many more. Check them out online through our web site and never have to worry about due dates as the magazines are automatically returned when due.  You can take them with you anywhere, no paper is used to print them, it’s impossible to damage them, they’re free with your library card; do you need more reasons to give it a try?

Stop by the service desk for a demo or simply click on the Flipster logo to the right of your screen to start surfing our digital collection today!


Is your significant other too cheap to woo you?  Want to forget the whole romance thing and just have a night out with a friend?  Either way, the library has got you covered.  We’re giving away two free movie passes and a $25 gift card to Applebees.  How do you win them?  By entering our Blind Date With a Book promotion!

Come into the library January 11-February 11th and pick out a wrapped book from our display.  You won’t know the author or title of the book but there will be tantalizing hints as to what type of book is inside.  Pick the one that most appeals to you, take it home, read it, and fill out a “Rate Your Date” card when you return it to enter into the drawing and a chance to win.