I have lots of old favorite kids’ books. The Tale of Desperaux, Holes, and The Graveyard Book top the list, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a new favorite. Until now.
Have you read Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan? If not, go to your library or bookstore now and buy it. Yes, it’s one you’ll want to have forever and ever.
I went into the book with the following recommendation from my friend Jenny, “Different from but as powerful as Wonder.” I knew nothing about the story, as I haven’t even read Wonder (I know, I know. I DO have my reasons for skipping this book that others love.)
Echo starts off as a fairy tale. I told my mom, “It has witches, banished daughters, spells, and a prophecy tied in with a magic and beautifully harmonious harmonica, the perfect beginning of a story.” But the fairy tale only starts the story and wraps it up.
In the middle, we meet three different characters who are not, at least at first glance, tied to the beginning magic. However, eventually we see Friedrich in 1933 Germany, find a harmonica in an abandoned warehouse. We see Mike, an orphan in 1935 Philadelphia pick out a harmonica from a music store, and we see Ivy, an American of Mexican descent in 1942 southern California, given a harmonica from her school.
Each person feels the magic of the harmonica as they play it, and the music makes his/her current situation, often sad and unjust, feel a bit more manageable.
Muñoz Ryan expertly ties the individuals and their different time periods together in an well-crafted story that is long but fast-paced and accessible to students from third grade on up.
Lovers of music will appreciate many musically talented characters, along with mention of real composers and their pieces. Lovers of history will appreciate true historical events such as Hoxie’s Harmonica Wizards, the Roberto Alvararez vs. the Lemon Grove School District desegregation case, and the housing of many Japanese Americans in internment camps in the 1940s. Teachers could also read Separate is Never Equal by Tonatiuh and Barbed Wire Baseball by Moss for more information. Parents will appreciate the believable situations and kindnesses shown by some of the most unsuspecting people.
And yes, like I said, the witches, banished daughters, spells and prophecies all come back in the end. Thank you, Pam Muñoz Ryan, for writing an amazing story that is now on my list of ever-after favorites.