"I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music... I get most joy in life out of music."
— Albert Einstein
If there's one thing I regret it's that I never learned to play a musical instrument. As a kid I wanted to learn how to play the piano, but there wasn't money for lessons let alone a piano at home. Maybe that's why Jamie and I made sure our kids took lessons – and didn't let them quit even when we got tired of trying to get them to practice. (And, of course, one of my favorite episodes of The Wonder Years dealt with this issue.) And although I've frequently watched with envy as my kids sat down and played a beautiful piece of music, the problem now is time – I just don't have enough time to squeeze one more responsibility into my life, no matter how much I'd love to.
Three (actually four) stories meld into one in Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan, a charming tribute to the value of music. When young Otto becomes lost in the woods he encounters three princess sisters and their story of being held captive by an evil witch. They give him a magic harmonica which shows him the way out. The harmonica then makes its way to three others with the power to change and save lives. First is Friedrich, a young boy with a disfiguring birthmark that puts him in danger of the Nazis as they seek for a pure, unblemished race. Second is Mike in Pennsylvania, who with his brother Frankie live in an orphanage but wish for a real family. And third is Ivy, a young Mexican-American girl in California, whose brother has recently joined the army to serve during WWII.
The stories and characters are compelling, and in spite of its length (nearly 600 pages) it reads quickly. It was a little annoying, however, when Friedrich's story comes to an abrupt halt just as the danger is at its highest, and Mike's story takes over. You have to read through all three to find out the final solution for each of them. But they're nice stories and the central theme of how music can touch people's lives in different ways is nice if a bit heavy-handed. It might encourage some kids to try learning an instrument – the harmonica, perhaps? – although the sheer bulk of the book may turn a few off. Still, an enjoyable read that I think 4th to 7th graders will like whether or not they already play an instrument. As for me, I know they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but maybe someday I'll have some free time and see about those piano lessons. (I received an advance copy of this book from Amazon Vine.)