By Cecilia Cackley
DESCRIPTION (from Goodreads): Music, magic, and a real-life miracle meld in this genre-defying masterpiece from storytelling maestro Pam Muñoz Ryan.
Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.
Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.
Richly imagined and masterfully crafted, Echo pushes the boundaries of genre and form, and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories. The result is an impassioned, uplifting, and virtuosic tour de force that will resound in your heart long after the last note has been struck.
MY TWO CENTS: Muñoz Ryan hits a sweet spot of historical fiction combined with a tiny bit of fantasy and a whole lot of heart in this new title. While the three separate narratives might seem overwhelming at first, they are never long-winded and large text and good formatting make things easy on the eyes. Muñoz Ryan introduces the reader to less familiar aspects of well-known historical events: laws regarding children with birth ‘defects’ in 1930’s Germany, conditions for orphans during the Depression in the US, and the segregation of schools in California for children of Mexican descent during World War II. All three main characters are easy to root for and their strength and determination makes happy coincidences and the final destination feel earned rather than magical. That harmonica though…what can I say? The power of music is mighty, a point Muñoz Ryan makes very clear. This is a great choice for middle grade readers, especially fans of historical fiction or stories involving music.
TEACHING TIPS: The historical settings make this a great title to connect to social studies units. It would also be a wonderful classroom read aloud. Teachers could assign groups to compile additional background research on the historical events mentioned in the text or on the harmonica and other musical instruments. Audio recordings would also be a great addition to the experience of the story.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Pam Muñoz Ryan has written over thirty books for young people, from picture books for the very young to young adult novels, including the award winning Esperanza Rising, Becoming Naomi Leon, Riding Freedom, Paint the Wind, and The Dreamer. She is the National Education Association’s Author recipient of the Civil and Human Rights Award, the Virginia Hamilton award for Multicultural Literature, and is twice the recipient of the Willa Cather Literary Award for writing. She was born and raised in Bakersfield, California (formerly Pam Bell), received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Diego State University and now lives in North San Diego County with her family.
Cecilia Cackley is a performing artist and children’s bookseller based in Washington DC where she creates puppet theater for adults and teaches playwriting and creative drama to children. Her bilingual children’s plays have been produced by GALA Hispanic Theatre and her interests in bilingual education, literacy, and immigrant advocacy all tend to find their way into her theatrical work. You can find more of her work at www.witsendpuppets.com.