I got my hands on an ARC of Echo by Pamela Munoz Ryan and finished it over two weekends on a bus to Boston, what a beautifully written story of three characters facing great odds.
By starting the book with the legend of the magical harmonica, Munoz draws the reader in immediately creating an eagerness for finding out where this story is going. Using a harmonica as a vehicle for the story gives the story a twist not found in any others that I can think of which only adds to the appeal. Everyone has played a harmonica, so the story has instant appeal.
The three characters cross a span of 18 years, from the beginnings of Nazi Germany through depression era Pennsylvania ending in WW II California. Fredrich, the first to come in contact with the magical harmonica, is a target for Hitler's storm troopers because of some special gifts and an unfortunate birthmark. The Mike and Frankie are brothers who end up in an institution during the Great Depression because there is no where else for them to go. Ivy is a young Hispanic girl living in California who must deal with racism in the schools and try to understand why Japanese Americans are being sent to Internment Camps.
The stories of these characters are told with language that is so wonderfully written, that the reader can't help but be drawn into their lives. The author uses words that create an empathy for the characters and a sense of wonder about how people could have acted as they did during these incredible historic times.
The book is over 500 pages so it will take some stamina for readers, but the reading level is such that I will recommend it for my good 4th and all of my 5th graders. This book easily is in my top 5 for 2015 and will absolutely be a Newbery contender.