I’m not sure exactly who to thank for the ARC of this that I received in the mail about a month ago. I don’t know if I requested it through a Shelf Awareness giveaway, or if I have maybe got a contact in Scholastic since I emailed last fall and requested Blue Lily, Lily Blue when I was turned down for an egalley of it. At first when I received this I was unsure. I’d read the author before, and really enjoyed her work, but this was another one that seemed a bit younger than I usually read these days. The blurb definitely caught my attention, and I’m so glad that I gave it a chance. While it is maybe more of a middle school book, it is about the time surrounding World War II and looks at the war from different places and different stations in life.
The story begins with a little fairy tale/legend found by a boy named Otto, 50 years before World War II began. Otto found a book and read it when he was hiding in the forest from his friends during a game of Hide and Seek. What’s pretty cool about this first part, is that now I understand why we say “Olly olly oxen free!” Because it comes from the German words, “Alle, alle auch sind frei,” or maybe it does. I think it means, something like, all in free. I don’t know, but it was fun to read it if it was true. Otto actually meets the 3 girls in the fairy tale, and they give him a harmonica that has some magic in it, to help save someone. We don’t know exactly what happens to it after that. We leave Otto’s story and jump into Friedrich’s story in 1933 Germany.
Friedrich is a young boy with a birthmark on his face. Because of that, and the fact that he seemed to hear music and be conducting it all the time, he was made fun of in school, so his father brought him to work at the harmonica factory with him in the mornings. Then in the afternoon he gave him lessons, as well as other people working at the factory that helped with his education. This is a time when Hitler is coming to power. But Friedrich and his father and Uncle Gunter are not supporters. When his sister Elisabeth comes home from nursing school, supposedly to begin working with their local doctor, things change. She has become a supporter of Hitler, and according to the new laws, it is possible that Friedrich might need to be sterilized because they wouldn’t want him passing on the birthmark that is hereditary. Everything seems to be going okay until Friedrich sends the harmonica away in a shipment for the factory. We’re left when the local police catch him trying to run away to save his father from a camp.
Then we go to learn about Mike and his brother Frank in Pennsylvania in 1935. They are living in boys home because they have no family anymore. When they went there, their grandmother had made the woman in charge promise to get them adopted out together. But the headmaster doesn’t seem to plan to do that. In fact she takes any money or extra food that is given by charity for the boys and sells it or keeps it for herself. Because she doesn’t want to lose this money, she is planning to send all the younger ones, like Frank, to the state home, which is supposed to be even worse than where they are now. And she will send the older ones, like Mike to work for more money for her. When they are almost ready to run away, they end up getting a chance to be adopted, both of them together, because of their musical ability. This new family doesn’t turn out to be quite what they’d hoped, even though they get harmonicas and think it may be their way out if they can learn to play enough to get chosen for a special tour. We leave these two when they think things might get worse and something really scary happens as they try to run away.
The third part of the story is a girl, Ivy, who lives in California in 1942. She has finally lived in one town for a full year when her father gets a letter saying they will be able to move and possibly live in a house for a change. A house of their own, and it could be a permanent place. She doesn’t want to move, she was just about to get to play a solo on the radio with her 5th grade class. But they have to leave the very next day, and with her older brother Fernando away in the war, she has promised him to keep their family together. It turns out they are going to be keeping up the orange grove for a Japanese man who has been sent to an Internment camp along with his family just because they are Japanese, even though the father of the family served in World War I for America and received medals of honor. The rich man who lives down the street really wants to buy the Japanese man’s house, partly because he thinks that maybe he was actually a spy. Ivy meets a friend, the rich man’s daughter. Many things though are not as they seem. The great school that Ivy is now excited to go to and join the orchestra is one of those things. And if the rich man is able to buy the house, will Ivy’s family lose their new home? And of course, will her brother make it home from the war?
The very end of the book is a story that will tie all of these characters together, and it all deals with the harmonica and music. Even Otto gets brought back in to finish the fairy tale and give the girls in the story their happy ending.
Another great story by Pam Munoz Ryan. A great tale of World War II, and how people, children, lived and survived during these times. I will be putting it on my list of books to buy for my high school library for next year.