The book Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan might be one of my all-time favorite books. It is a captivating work of historical fiction that begins and ends with an element of fantasy. You first learn of a prophecy and the reoccurring use of a magical harmonica that links three separate narratives.
These three different tales of musically inclined children take place at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II. Readers will learn about the Holocaust, the Great Depression, and the bombing at Pearl Harbor.
Each child is faced with a great injustice. As a reader, you have the opportunity to champion the marginalized. Friedrich, in Germany, experiences the arrest of his father after he has a Jewish friend over to play music with him. During the Great Depression, in Pennsylvania, Mike lives with his younger brother in an orphanage. They are poorly cared for and forced to work for their caregiver’s wages. Then, Ivy moves to Southern California with her family to work on a farm in the 1940s. She is a brilliant girl who is forced to attend a segregated school, which is ill equipped to teach young children.
In order to cope with their frustrations, the children spend time playing a musical instrument. It is their escape, as well as their way of sharing joy with others. This talent brings them together in a beautifully, and unexpected way.
This book, because of its length and the intensity of events, would be appropriate for children in fifth grade or older.
I have found that most of my students become intensely interested in learning about WWII at this age. Reading this book would be an excellent way to introduce them to the event.
I would highly recommend that you listen to the audio book! There are musicians playing all of the pieces mentioned throughout the story. They talk about a number of famous composers and their works, so it is very exciting to hear them as you are reading.
The author does a fantastic job of showing the importance of music and art in our lives. It is gives them a powerful sense of hope for their futures.
Music does not have a race or a disposition! Every instrument has a voice that contributes. Music is a universal language. A universal religion of sorts. Certainly it’s my religion. Music surpasses all distinctions between people. – Father in Echo by Pam Muñoz Ryan’s
I checked out the CDs from the library and listened to them on my way to work, but you can also find them on Hoopla and Overdrive in order to listen to them digitally. Or find it on Amazon.
What Parents Need to Know
There is some violence in the book in order to show the treatment of the minorities. Friedrich’s father is taken to be imprisoned in a Nazi work camp. The orphaned boys are treated poorly and experience harsh work conditions. Then, Ivy experiences racism first hand, as well as witnesses Japanese neighbors taken to an internment camp.
There is also a Nazi law discussed that forces people to be sterilized. None of this is described first-hand, only discussed as a possibility. Also, the phrase “Jew-lover” is used by one of the Nazi soldiers.
With boldness, each of the children are diligent about speaking up for what is right and doing what they can to combat these prejudices.
- Based on the beginning of the story, which genre would you use to classify this book? What evidence do you have to support that idea?
- What do you think is the meaning of the midwife’s prophecy in the story?
- “Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed.”
- After reading several chapters, discuss whether or not you still feel the genre is the same. Has it changed? How do you know?
- What theme is the author creating by using music throughout the story?
- In what way is music important to each main character?
- Why does the author use the element of the harmonica in the tale?
- Compare the lives of the three children in the book (Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy). Are their challenges similar or different? In what ways?
- This book leads to great discussions about world history –
- Look up information about Adolf Hitler and his rise to power. How did this happen?
- What are Japanese internment camps? What was their purpose?
- Friedrich lives in Trossingen, Germany. Find some additional information on this town. Why is it called “music town”?
- What was Pearl Harbor? Why is it important to our country’s history?
- Why do you think the author chose to name the book Echo?
Echo by Pam Ryan has won numerous awards, including a nomination for a Newbery Medal the year it was published.
Other Books by Pam Muñoz Ryan
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