Music, undoubtedly a universal language, connects and inspires regardless of culture. In Echo, Pam Munoz Ryan, winner of two Pura Belpre Awards, the Virginia Hamilton Literary Award for multicultural literature and more, uses an enchanted harmonica to reveal the musical gifts and talents of three children. A German boy is slated for the Home for Unfortunates in Nazi Germany because of a physical imperfection. A gangly eleven year old is given over to an orphanage in Pennsylvania in 1935. A young Mexican American girl is uprooted when her family moves to California in 1942 to take over the farm of a Japanese family in exile. The characters' destinies are entwined.
The story unfolds when a young boy, designated “Otto the Messenger,” ventures into the woods during a game of hide and seek. He takes along a book and a harmonica, both purchased from a band of gypsies. The spirits of three princesses are locked within the musical instrument until it can save someone from death, thus breaking a witch’s curse. The harmonica makes its way into the hands of each of the three children.
With an ode to lyricists and composers at the beginning of each section in this novel, music is the golden thread weaving a tapestry of compassion and goodwill throughout.
Multi-generational perspectives, segregation, poverty, bullying presented along with imaginative storytelling make this a unique blend of fantasy/mystery/history for readers 10 to 13 years old.The overriding theme is the power of love, family and the power of music.
While no other book is quite like Echo, young readers will find a similar tension in Lois Lowry’s classic, Number the Stars, which takes place in Nazi-held Denmark. Check out A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. It's an uplifting story of two girls, one the child of migrant laborers, who bond during blueberry picking season in Maine. All titles are available in Virginia Beach Public Libraries.
Review by Sandi H.
Review by Sandi H.