This past week was one of travel, seeing family and thinking of history. Specifically, I was thinking of the history of my family. I traveled to south – eastern Iowa to the family farm where a couple cousins and I met to begin the process of cleaning out the farmhouse. My great grandparents built this farmhouse in 1867. As we searched through the attic, the kitchen and dining room we uncovered layers of history. Every box and drawer took us to a different time period. Each item hid a story of family and the items cherished over time. Things pasted along the family line that told a specific story of that time period – style of dished, kitchen utensils, bowls, china, even a gunny sack of hair saved to be used in a hair wreath (don’t even ask). Everything was saved and used over and over.
This process of passing things along made me think about how my families world in the same time period was so different from the families in Echo Pam Munoz Ryan’s new book. Here she has us follow three families through the challenging times of Hitler’s Germany in 1933, the poverty and family loss of the depression in 1935 and finally the migrant workers and the Japanese interment in California during the early 40’s.
Ryan does a masterful job of leading us through the struggles of each family and how they worked to support each other and hold on to what is important. Unlike my family who stayed on one farm and were able to keep things of value, these families were moving and fleeing leaving their most important possessions behind. Her through line is a Harmonica made in Germany and passed along as each owner finds they must let go to hold on to what is dear to them. It is this simple instrument and the magic of music that pulls everything together. The families and the story as a whole.
I loved this book and could have had a whole book written for each family. I do wonder how children will take to this story. She weaves a tale that is only settled at the end but one much hold the details of each families tale to appreciate the ending. We understand from Ryan the families struggle but over time issues can be resolved and dreams can come true.
I would love to hear from anyone who has shared this tale with children. What do they like or dislike? What messages do they take away?
Let me know what you think!