Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978



Fall 2015 Fiction
Ages: 10 - 14 yrs.
Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
Publisher: Scholastic
ISBN: 978-0439874021
Hardcover Price: $19.99

In the forests of Germany, three princesses are unjustly exiled by their father and exploited by a selfish witch; but they do not lose hope, and they sing beautifully to keep up their spirits. Just as they are about to gain their freedom, the witch traps their voices in a magic harmonica. The princesses' souls must remain within the harmonica, lending it their voices, until the harmonica is passed to someone who needs help and salvation. Only then will the princesses be released to resume their lives.

Echo follows the story of the harmonica, as it is passed to three different music-loving children in turn. Each is in sore need of help, and each seeks comfort in the harmonica. Friedrich, a budding conductor, struggles to survive the climate of 1930s Germany, where his birthmark and his seizures increasingly place him under threat of sterilization and deportation to a labor camp. When his harmonica is sent to Philadelphia, Mike, an orphan rendered destitute by the Great Depression, cherishes it in hopes that membership in a harmonica band might enable him to secure his younger brother Frankie's place in an adoptive home. The harmonica then makes its way to Fresno during World War II, where Ivy moves from the barrio to a Japanese-owned farm for which her father is hired as caretaker. She searches for strength in music, in order to help her to combat anti-Japanese prejudice and to navigate the humiliation of being placed in a second-rate segregated school for Mexican-American children. But as much as each of these children needs the comfort that music can bring them, the harmonica has one more soul to save.

This sweeping historical novel offers young history buffs three separate eras to sink into, each one anchored by a compelling character and story. Each new protagonist is engaging and sympathetic, living in a fully imagined world with complex secondary characters. The connecting device of the harmonica is unexpected, but the fairy tale frame works surprisingly well within a novel that is mostly realistic fiction. The children's common love of music is handled less well; as is often the case, the study of music is over-romanticized, involving much more prodigious genius and much less frustrated practice than is actually ever the case. Nevertheless, young readers who love historical fiction-or just a really well told story-will happily lose themselves in the magic of this novel.

Naomi Lesley   ©2015 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

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