Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Monday, March 23, 2015

A Prophecy, A Curse, A Messenger

I spent many hours out in the garage; banished as an early musician struggling to get mouth position and finger position to coordinate.  I have to admit sometimes the sound of a clarinet in the hands of an early learner replicates a goose lost from the flock.  I don't recall ever making first chair, in our junior high or high school band, but I was finally able to garner some first places in Solo & Ensemble for several years.  When you are a part of a larger whole in a band or an orchestra, a whole with sound swirling in created emotion around you, it's indescribably wonderful.

Late Friday night I began reading Echo (Scholastic Press, February 24, 2015) written by Pam Munoz Ryan with dust jacket, book case and interior artwork by Dinara Mirtalipova.  I read until 3 AM Saturday morning, woke up early and finished the book by early evening.  As I chronicled where I was in the book on Twitter a chorus of voices spoke up about their reading experiences with this title.  Others decided to move it to the top of their TBR pile starting and completing it, joining us in their admiration.  We became a part of a larger whole; a whole born from a story with words swirling about us.

Fifty years before the war to end all wars, a boy played hide-and-seek with his friends in a pear orchard bordered by a dark forest.

This boy, Otto, in an attempt to win the game becomes lost in the forest with only a book and a harmonica as companions.  A tale from fairy, a shift in time and an encounter with three sisters puts a series of events in motion spanning more than seven decades.  In compassion a midwife delivers a prophecy and in anger a witch speaks a curse.  Three other children face uncertain, even terrifying futures, as readers follow their lives through four separate parts beginning in October 1933.

In Trossingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany Friedrich Schmidt has spent twelve years of his life in the company of his father and older sister Elisabeth along with their Uncle Gunter.  For four years, due to circumstances caused by a birth mark on one side of his face, he has been an apprentice at the largest harmonica factory in the world.  On the first day of work after his father's retirement, during a lunch break, Friedrich makes a discovery under haunting circumstances.  Within days the dark cloud of Hitler's rising regime makes a family homecoming, a casual musical gathering and an innocent remark to another boy cause for serious alarm.

It is now June 1935 in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania.  Two brothers, Mike and Frankie Flannery are placed in The Bishop's Home for Friendless and Destitute Children due to the failing health of their Granny.  Desperate to stay together and worried about threats of changes made by the woman in charge, Pennyweather, Mike knows they need a plan for escape.  A visit by two gentleman, an impromptu piano recital, a wealthy woman of mystery, a will and a pact set in motion events more beyond their control than they can have imagined.

When Ivy Maria Lopez and her Mama and Papa leave La Colonia near Fresno County for Orange County in southern California in December of 1942, the full force of World War II falls over the family like a cloak of unease.  With her brother, Fernando, serving in the army and having left a best friend, Ivy needs to dig deep to find the necessary strengths.  As caretakers of a large citrus farm belonging to a Japanese American family placed in an internment camp, the Lopez's find themselves battling over-zealous spy seekers and prejudices prevalent at the time against Mexican Americans.  Even though her musical talent lifts Ivy's spirits and the spirits of those around her, she carries a secret which could crumble the very foundation of their new life.

We are taken forward a final time to April 1951 in New York City, New York.  It is to be an evening like no other.  It is an evening where

the same silken thread

began in a fairy tale stretching from one country to another and from one state to another completes a tapestry of sheer brilliance.

Three separate gifted children, Friedrich, Mike and Ivy, living apart in time and place, living four separate stories, are bound by the meticulous, marvelous writing skills of Pam Munoz Ryan.  The idea to frame their histories within the beginning and ending of an original fairy tale tied together by the travels of a harmonica steeped in magic brings readers deeply and completely into this title.  Starting each of the four sections with the lyrics of a song which figures prominently in that particular portion further binds the characters together.  A cliffhanger not once but three times has you gasping for air.

Research by Ryan supplies the historical basis for the situations in which Friedrich, Mike and Ivy find themselves; a Germany under the rule of Hitler, the Great Depression in the United States and an America at war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor as well as the segregated schools found in southern California.  Conversations between all the characters in their individual settings, the thoughts of Friedrich, Mike and Ivy and the explicit word choices in the narrative suspend reality for readers page after page.  Our world vanishes as we eagerly step into their worlds.  Here are several examples of the writing of Pam Munoz Ryan from this book.

Once, long before enchantment was eclipsed by doubt, an anxious and desperate king awaited the birth of his first child.

How simple an instrument, yet with such capacity.  He studied the shiny metal cover plates and the black-painted pear wood.  He turned the harmonica over and ran his thumb across the symmetrical holes.  What an improbable journey from pear tree to lumberyard to assembly-room floor to become something that could make music.

After a night of wrestling the heat in the Upper Boy's dormitory, Mike Flannery nuzzled into his pillow, savoring the cool air that finally drifted through the open windows at The Bishop's Home for Friendless and Destitute Children.
A mourning dove cooed.  Sink faucets dripped.  Bedsprings creaked as the lads shifted and settled in their narrow cots.
Through a cobweb of dreams, Mike heard Frankie's distinctive whistle---the last six notes of "America the Beautiful," their signal for emergencies.

As the car pulled away, Ivy said, "Mama, Mr. Ward does not look very friendly."
"No," Mama agreed. "He looks the opposite.  But you cannot trust appearances.  When someone wears a face like that, it is often hiding a reason we cannot see."
Ivy watched the car disappear.  What could Mr. Ward be hiding?

It has been nearly two days since my completion of Echo written by Pam Munoz Ryan but this book with these stories is not easily forgotten.  This book is going to be placed with a few other titles on my personal shelves.  This book is going to reside with the best books I have ever read.  Recommend this book whenever you can.  Read it aloud.  Share it and share it often.

To learn more about Pam Munoz Ryan and her other work please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Please take a moment to read two conversations with Pam Munoz Ryan at School Library Journal, Pam Munoz Ryan's "Echo" Reverberates With Hope|Interview, and at Publishers Weekly, Q & A with Pam Munoz Ryan.  Reading Rockets has a series of older videos about the work of Pam Munoz Ryan.  Update:  Pam Munoz Ryan Talks with Roger at The Horn Book about this book.  Here is a special site from the publisher dedicated to Echo.  Pam Munoz Ryan talks about the book plus there are excerpts, a discussion guide, a harmonica how-to guide and a reading from the audio book.

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