By Pam Munoz Ryan, published 2015
“Have you ever considered that one person might play the mouth harp and pass along her strength and vision and knowledge? So that the next musician who plays it might feel the same? It is true…”
I was stunned by this children’s book. Everything about it was unexpected. Each section contains its own full, stand-alone story, and not until the final pages do all the different threads come together in one satisfying conclusion.
The story opens as if we are reading a fairy tale, and we are introduced to a magical harmonica. Then quickly we move into the first of three full stories of children who come in contact with the harmonica. However, each of the three stories is not a fairy tale, but rather a very honest dive into the sadness and confusion of the world prior to World War II. In this way, this children’s book is a remarkable way to introduce children to some very serious topics – Hitler’s rise to power, life in an orphanage, and the life of migrant workers in California. In each difficult situation, there is a remarkable triumph of spirit. How astounding. To offer children such important historical views, and yet, have it held by a thread of magic and destiny.
The thread that weaves all the three characters together is the power of music to redeem even the darkest of situations. This again was an unexpected boon of this children’s book, since it’s not something that one comes across often enough.
I’m still marveling that the author was able to pull off this mixture of magic, music, historical fiction, and fairy tale in one very hefty volume. I have never read anything by Ms Ryan but I am now eager to track down her other works for children. She is a story teller par excellence. A very worthwhile children’s book to read at home, at school, or anywhere. Best for 4th grade and up.