Reading Level: Middle Grade
Length: 592 pages
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: ARC from Amazon Vine
Rating: 5/5 stars
I got a copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program to review. This was a wonderful middle grade read that has a bit of a fairy tale feel to it and also delves into the history of World War II. It was very cleverly put together, it kind of reminded me of a children’s Cloud Atlas.
This book starts with a fairy tale involving a boy named Otto, a strange prophecy, and a special harmonica. After that we go into the stories of three different children. All of the stories are set during the course of World War II and all of them involve a special harmonica. The first story of that is Friedrich who lives in Germany just as WWII is starting; his father is a musician and their whole family faces persecution by the Nazis both because of a birth defect Friedrich has and because his father plays music with Jews. The second story is set later in WWII in Philadelphia and follows and boy named Mike and his brother. Both boys are orphans and are desperately trying to get adopted into a home that will take both of them. The last story features a girl named Ivy who lives in California and is struggling both with the persecution she faces there because she is Mexican and with the absence of her brother who has gone off to war.
This was a spectacular read that was very unique, incredibly engaging, and amazing to read. I loved the stories of children living through the different years of World War II and how music (and a wonderful harmonica) ended up tying the stories together. Each story ends at a point that will have you absolutely dying to know what happens next. Seriously it was killing me to leave these characters right in the middle of a pivotal point in their lives. However, trust me, you do get closure about what happens to all these characters…even if you have to be patient and wait for that closure until the end.
This book was just so amazing to me. I loved the structure and the common thread through the stories. All of the these characters are tied together by a harmonica, their love of music, and the struggles they are faced with. Then all three of these stories tie into the fairy tale we started with, it is just very well done.. This reminds a bit of Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but isn’t quite as complex and is well done especially for a middle grade audience.
The other thing that amazed me was how quickly I got involved in the story and characters. Even after just a couple of pages I cared about these characters and wanted to desperately know what would happen to them. I was just completely engaged in the story, it takes a great author to make characters that suck you in so completely.
Additionally this story did such an excellent job of giving multiple views of an important era in time. Usually WWII books are written from the Jews point of view. In this book we see World War II from the normal German’s perspective, from the perspective of American boys who are peripherally affected, and from a young girl who is in American but feels the impact because of the implications the war has on both her Japanese and Mexican neighbors. This book really shows how widespread the impact of WWII was, but in a way that I think kids can grasp and relate to.
Which brings me to my final glowing remark about this book. I have been struggling to find books on history about WWII that my seven year old can read. He loves history but I am leery of him picking up books from the adult section of the library/book store because I don’t know what type of content they have. This is the absolutely perfect book to introduce kids to WWII in a way that shows the impact the war had…it is engaging, without being overly gory or disturbing. I want my son to learn about the history and horror of war and how it changed the world; however I don’t want him to have nightmares or be emotionally disturbed by the horrors of what the Nazi party did to people….I want to hold off on that for at least a few more years.
I do have one small complaint with this book. It wrapped up too quickly. I know it’s a long book, but it didn’t feel long. I felt like given the epic struggles of these characters to wrap up their lives in a couple short chapters was just a bit too abrupt. It was good closure and I enjoyed it, but it did feel a bit rushed.
Overall this is my favorite book of the year so far and will probably be one of favorites of the year as a whole. This book does so much right. It’s creatively and amazingly put together, the characters and stories are engaging and intriguing. Most of all it does an excellent job of introducing kids/teens/etc to the history of WWII in a way that is engaging and approachable. Oh…and did I mention it’s absolutely impossible to put down! I loved this book. It is one I think everyone could benefit from (and have fun) reading it .
This book goes towards the following reading challenges:
– You Read How Many Books? Reading Challenge