Michelle Isenhoff

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2015

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday (MMGM) on his Always in the Middle website each week. Check it out for more great kidlit!

I like Pam Muñoz Ryan’s books, and there’s a reason Echo claimed Newbery honors in 2016. Ryan is often lauded for her multicultural stories, but that’s not why I like them. I like them because they’re GOOD stories. I couldn’t care less about the rest, honestly. Tell me an engaging story, and I won’t care if the hero is black, white, brown, green, or purple. It’s the story that captures me. I know I’m getting to this one really late, but I’ve been away for a few years and wanted to work back in with a book that’s been on my tbr list a long time. This was a great choice! For those ten people who haven’t read it yet, here ya go…

So it just so happens that Echo has not just one hero but four! The story begins in Germany well before the First World War. Young Otto is playing hide and seek when he stumbles onto three princesses whose spirits have been trapped deep in the woods—the three princesses he has just been reading about in The Thirteenth Harmonica of Otto Messenger. Three sad, abandoned princesses cut from their past and their family by a wicked witch. But the story cut off abruptly because their story isn’t finished yet. He is able to capture their spirits in a harmonica (purchased from the same Gypsy who sold him the book) in hopes of helping them finish their story and return to their rightful place.

The plot skips ahead 70 years, in pre-WWII Germany, where young and musical Friedrich Schmidt is struggling with imperfections that mark him for sterilization surgery as well as a sister who is buying into Hitler’s vision of the future. Friedrich is lured into a storage room of the Hohner harmonica factory where he works by haunting music and finds the very same harmonica, distinguishable by a red M on the comb. And so the girls’s story moves forward.

The harmonica next turns up in post-war Philadelphia where orphaned Mike Flannery receives it. Some years later, it enters the hands of Ivy Maria Lopez, who attends a segregated school in California. Each one of these kids has exceptional musical talent, each faces unique challenges, and each will capture your heart. Munoz has an unparalleled ability to breath spirit into her characters. She also has the finesse needed to weave each of these strands into a single, beautiful tapestry.

This is a unique blend of fantasy with historical fiction that engages a variety of social issues. I loved it. And I appreciate the fortitude, compassion, and kindness displayed by each of these kids as they navigate their own difficult circumstances. Since I last wrote a review, the world has exploded with “influencers” that aren’t always pulling kids in wholesome directions. That makes giving tween kids positive models to aspire to, even if subconsciously, so important.

The presence of the princess’s spirits may sound alarm bells in some, but it’s fairytaleish stuff and quite innocuous. Background. The book includes so much historical teaching, so much awareness of others’ circumstances, so many positives, that a detail that could turn weird (but never does) shouldn’t throw anyone off reading this one. This one’s a heavy hitter that I think will go down as a classic. One of my new favorites. Five starts, Ms. Muñoz!

Ages 8-12

Grab a copy of Echo from Amazon.

Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2015

18 thoughts on “Echo, by Pam Muñoz Ryan, 2015

    1. Thanks for stopping by! The ghostie thing was very background. The story was great.

    1. Thanks for checking it out. I’m glad to be back for the summer!

  1. Echo is one of my favorite stories. I agree, it is such a great story and I love how it all comes together at the end. I loved the fantasy along with the historical fiction. I loved the book so much that I got the audio tape and played it during a trip to Florida a few years ago. I have greats that are reaching the age of reading this masterpiece.

    Oh my, you are back. I have been thinking about sending you a note. Am curious about whether you finished your favorite books.

    1. It’s so fun to share the good ones with the next generation of readers, isn’t it? Yup, I’m back, probably just for the summer. And no, I haven’t finished writing anything. Well, one, but I haven’t published it. Waiting till I get farther in the series. Just picking at it slowly. Been doing more editing than writing. It’s fun to get back to some middle grade reviewing!

  2. Loved, loved, LOVED ECHO! (And I really enjoyed your review, too. It makes me want to go back and re-read the book.) I agree with you. ECHO is destined to become a classic.

  3. I also enjoyed this Newbery Honors winner. Such a great story and I fully agree with you on what makes a good book. Thanks for featuring your review on this week’s MMGM.

    1. It’s more of a fantastical spin on historical fiction, but who’s splitting hairs? 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I remember really liking this one. It took a bit for me to figure out how everything was connected and then I was like, that’s pretty clever! Good book 🙂

    1. Me too! She had so many threads to weave together–kids and ghosts, all from different eras/decades. I loved it.

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