Author: Ryan, Pam Munoz
Lost in the Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and finds himself entwined in a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica--and decades later three children, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California find themselves caught up in the same thread of destiny in the darkest days of the twentieth century, struggling to keep their families intact, and tied together by the music of the same harmonica.
Download a Teacher's Guide
|Accelerated Reader Information:|
Interest Level: MG
Reading Level: 4.90
Points: 13.0 Quiz: 171965
|Reading Counts Information:|
Interest Level: 6-8
Reading Level: 4.20
Points: 20.0 Quiz: 65307
Newbery Honor, 2016
Common Core Standards
Grade 5 → Reading → RL Literature → 5.RL Key Ideas & Details
Grade 5 → Reading → RL Literature → 5.RL Range of Reading & Level of Text Complexity
Grade 6 → Reading → RL Literature → 6.RL Key Ideas & Details
Grade 6 → Reading → RL Literature → 6.RL Range of Reading & Level of Text Complexity
Kirkus Reviews (+) (12/15/14)
School Library Journal (+) (12/01/14)
The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (+) (03/15)
The Hornbook (00/03/15)
Full Text Reviews:
School Library Journal - 12/01/2014 Gr 5–8—"Long before enchantment was eclipsed by doubt," a young boy named Otto lost in the woods is rescued by three sisters imprisoned there by a witch's curse. In return, he promises to help break the curse by carrying their spirits out of the forest in a mouth harp and passing the instrument along when the time is right. The narrative shifts to the 20th century, when the same mouth harp (aka harmonica) becomes the tangible thread that connects the stories of three children: Friedrich, a disfigured outcast; Mike, an impoverished orphan; and Ivy, an itinerant farmer's child. Their personal struggles are set against some of the darkest eras in human history: Friedrich, the rise of Nazi Germany; Mike, the Great Depression; Ivy, World War II. The children are linked by musical talent and the hand of fate that brings Otto's harmonica into their lives. Each recognizes something unusual about the instrument, not only its sound but its power to fill them with courage and hope. Friedrich, Mike, and Ivy are brought together by music and destiny in an emotionally triumphant conclusion at New York's Carnegie Hall. Meticulous historical detail and masterful storytelling frame the larger history, while the story of Otto and the cursed sisters honor timeless and traditional folktales. Ryan has created three contemporary characters who, through faith and perseverance, write their own happy endings, inspiring readers to believe they can do the same.—Marybeth Kozikowski, Sachem Public Library, Holbrook, NY - Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and/or School Library Journal used with permission.
Bulletin for the Center... - 03/01/2015 In the nineteenth century, a young boy, Otto Messenger, buys a book from a gypsy and finds himself involved in the strange, unfinished tale within its pages. Lost in the woods, he meets the three cursed women of the story, who tie their fate to the harmonica the gypsy gave him with the book. The enchanted harmonica travels: in 1933 in Germany, young Friedrich Schmidt, bullied away from his school because of his facial birthmark and his obsession with conducting music only he can hear, works at a harmonica factory before his father is sent to a re-education camp for consorting with Jews and playing music the Führer finds vulgar. In 1935 in Philadelphia, two orphaned boys are adopted by a grieving woman according to the terms of her father’s will, but a misunderstanding prompts the older boy to set his sights on joining Albert Hoxie’s Philadelphia Harmonica Band. In 1942 in California, Ivy Maria Lopez is crushed when her father moves the family to a new farm to act as caretaker while its Japanese owners are relocated to an internment camp, requiring her to leave her music program behind. In the hands of each new owner, the harmonica brings hope, beauty and joy to those who hear it, but it isn’t until Ivy gives it to Kenny Yamamoto that it completes its destiny, and Otto’s book is finally finished. Ryan’s ingenious plotting harmonizes as sweetly as the famed mouth harp itself, and her eloquent prose breathes life and energy into likable characters whose stories are individually compelling and historically resonant as it treats elements such as the forced sterilization of “defective” Germans, the practice of farming out teen orphans for wage work, the existence of a professional harmonica band, and segregated schools in California. The embellishment of fantasy lightens without trivializing the history; instead, it traces a thread of hope and indomitable human spirit through dark times. Each extended episode has its own theme song from the period, with instructions on how to play it on a harmonica; lots of scope for imaginative programming here. KC - Copyright 2015 The Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois.