Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan
Once 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…
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.
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.
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.