Narrators: Mark Bramhall, David de Vries, MacLeod Andrews, Rebecca Soler
Musician: Corky Siegel
Echo is one of the most enchanting books I've listened to in a long time. Published by Scholastic, its intended audience is middle school children, but its gentle message of hope transcends age and genre.
The book is in five parts.
The first part sets up the fairy tale in which a magic harmonica is introduced. Yes, a harmonica. Or mouth organ, mouth harp, blues harp, however you want to call it, that musical instrument which is often more considered as a toy than a serious instrument. In this tale, it has magic, mystery, and music.
The next three parts are three distinct stories of children whose lives are changed by the advent of the harmonica as it falls into their hands. There's the 12-year old boy in 1930s Germany whose family falls under suspicion of the Nazis. The tale brings us to the point where he is going off to rescue his father from Dachau when he is discovered on the train by the very brown shirts he's trying to flee. Then there is the orphan boy in Pennsylvania followed by a little girl in California. Each child faces an overwhelming challenge, and each child has the magic of the harmonica to bring them hope.
The fifth part of the story weaves the fairy tale and the three children's lives together with a thread of music that resonates throughout. Although the harmonica is the "star" of the story, each child has a specific musical gift apart from the harmonica. Friedrich is a cellist, Mike is a conductor, and Ivy is a flautist.
I don't know what it would be like reading the story off the printed page without the wonder of music that flows through the talking book. Various songs, such as Brahms' "Lullaby", Beethoven's "Für Elise", "America the Beautiful", "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", "My Old Kentucky Home", and others played on cello, piano, and/or harmonica create a soundscape you can't find in the pages of a book. Corky Siegel, as the only musician listed, plays the cello, piano, and harmonica, bringing to life the author's descriptions of the music. The four narrators create another kind of magic as they tell each child's story, capturing personality, history, culture, and atmosphere. To quote the book's description as found online, it is "richly imagined and structurally innovative...(and) pushes the boundary of form and shows us what is possible in how we tell stories."