Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Published by Scholastic Press

Summary:  Otto, lost in the forbidden forest, stumbles upon three mysterious girls and learns the story of how they were cast out by their father, the king, who wanted a son.  They give Otto a magic harmonica.  Many years later, the harmonica passes to Friedrich in Germany, then to Mike in Philadelphia, and finally, to Ivy in California.  Friedrich, born with a large birthmark on his face, is struggling to survive in 1933 Germany as Hitler is coming to power.  Mike is determined to keep himself and younger brother Frankie together when an unexpected stroke of good luck gets them out of their orphanage.  Is his new home too good to be true?  Soon after Ivy’s beloved older brother joins the army, her family is hired to run a farm owned by a Japanese family who has been taken away to an internment camp.  Are they spies, or just a family struggling to survive, like her own?  All three stories converge when the grown-up Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy are brought together in 1951 by their love of music.  Otto’s story concludes the book, revealing the missing part of the harmonica’s journey.  Grades 5-8.

Pros:  If you only read one book in 2015, here it is.  Look for this title next January when Newbery honors are announced.

Cons:  At 592 pages, this book is well into doorstop territory.  Younger readers may struggle to handle the four separate stories.

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