A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Pam Muñoz Ryan's 2016 Newbery Honor book Echo is a historical novel with a fantasy element. It includes information about the beginning of the Holocaust, the Great Depression, and what life was like in America after Pearl Harbor, including how Japanese people were sent to internment camps. Readers also will learn that in some California school districts in the 1940s, kids with Mexican ancestry were sent to separate and inferior schools. The three main protagonists -- Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy -- all face injustice: Nazi soldiers call Friedrich "the ugly son of a Jew-lover" after taking his father to a labor camp; Mike and Frank are at the mercy of a cruel and calculating orphanage director and later get thrown out of a store, suspected of being thieves; Ivy must go to a school for Mexican students. They learn about other injustices, too (for example, the family that owns the farm Ivy lives on is sent to a Japanese internment camp). There's some violence, from fistfights to war injuries, and one soldier dies. But the protagonists speak up in their own way for what's right and continue to think of ways to help others who also are suffering. They eventually learn "to hope for the best and that no matter how much sadness there is in life, there are equal amounts of maybe-things'll-get-better-someday-soon."
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In ECHO, author Pam Muñoz Ryan strings together three very different stories of young people facing injustices, all of which are tied together by a fantastic prophecy and a magical harmonica. In Germany in the 1930s, Friedrich's father is arrested by the Nazis and sent to a labor camp after having a Jewish friend over to play music with him. Friedrich, also a talented musician, fears he will have to be sterilized, and perhaps even euthanized, because of a birthmark on his face. In Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, Mike and his younger brother are living in an unloving orphanage where they're hired out to work and must wear raggedy clothing. They're adopted by a strange rich woman, but when they learn she might be sending them back, Mike must make plans for them to stay together. Then, in the 1940s, Ivy moves with her farmworker family to Southern California, but once there she learns she must attend the inferior school for Mexicans. She also learns about the injustices suffered by Japanese families, such as the farm's owners, who are sent to live in internment camps. All the main characters have musical ability, and when they're playing a magical harmonica they feel better about themselves and inspire others with the beauty of their music. Eventually readers learn more about how their interwoven stories connect.
Is it any good?
This is a long book, but it's so rich and beautiful readers may be surprised to finish it in a few days, or even one day. There's history to learn and important messages about the pain of injustice and the importance of hope -- and music -- even in the darkest times. But readers may find what moves them most are the small, tender moments, such as when Friedrich and his older sister Elisabeth can't sleep, and their father opens their bedroom doors, brings out his cello, and "tells them to say farewell to their troubles because they were about to fly away on the wings of music."
Readers will fall for each of these protagonists -- as well as the boy from the fairy-tale-like framing story who sets it all in motion. And while they'll be more than satisfied by the clever ending, they'll be sad to leave these kindhearted characters behind.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about history. What did you learn about the 1930s and '40s in this book? Did anything surprise you?
What do you think of the magical ideas in Echo, which contrast with the historical details? Does it bother you that the author mixed fantasy and fact, or do you appreciate her style?
Ivy's orchestra teacher believes that "everyone needs the beauty and light of music, especially during the worst of times." Do you agree or disagree with this idea?
- Author: Pam Munoz Ryan
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Adventures, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, History, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Scholastic Press
- Publication date: February 24, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
- Number of pages: 592
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Award: Newbery Medal and Honors
- Last updated: June 4, 2020
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