Sometimes choosing a book resembles a trip to the grocery store without a clear idea of what’s for supper. Passing along the meat counter, suddenly you become hungry for pork chops. With a few minutes to kill before my meeting in USM’s Cook Library, I cruised the curriculum materials stacks where they keep children’s books without a planned selection. Passing down the shelves, I had a sudden craving for a Pam Munoz Ryan story.
Remembered flavor of Esperanza Rising made my mouth water, and I pulled out Becoming Naomi Leon, another book arising from her combined Mexican and Oklahoma heritages. Chapter headings of “a lamentation of swans,” “an unkindness of ravens,” and “a schizophrenia of hawks” promised good reading. Checking my favorite place for flavor, I read the first line. “I always thought the biggest problem in my life was my name, Naomi Soledad Leon Outlaw, but little did I know that it was the least of my troubles, or that someday I would live up to it.” The book enticed and satisfied as Naomi’s world in Avocado Acres Trailer Rancho in Lemon Tree, CA with Gram and her little brother is upset by the appearance of her mother after a seven year absence. I won’t spoil the book by telling you how she lived up to her name.
Other times choosing a book takes you back to the grocery store idea facing a trip and a need of a big bag of chips to last to your destination. Heading to Texas, I needed a long book. (Yes, I can read in the car. I give deepest sympathy for those who would lose six hours of reading time for motion sickness.) How fortunate that Pam Munoz Ryan has a new almost six hundred page book out called Echo with another good beginning. “Fifty years before the war to end all wars, a boy played hide-and-seek with his friends in a pear orchard bordered by a dark forest.”
The first segment took me back to being a child enthralled in a fairy tale that dropped off before the finish with a special mouth harp – a harmonica in the hands of the messenger. Three stories follow with a unique harmonica. Could it be the same?
• October 1933 – Trossingen, Baden-Wurttemberg, Germany – Friedrich finds a harmonica in a drawer with a tiny red letter M that will be with him as his family deals with the Nazis.
• June 1935 – Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, USA – Mike, trying to stay together with his brother Frankie as the leave the homeless boys’ shelter, chooses a box that looks different when their benefactor offers to buy them harmonicas – and opens it to find one with a small hand-painted red M.
• December 1942 – Southern California, USA – Ivy, in La Colonia’s music class with Miss Delgado, chooses her harmonica from a box and traces the tiny red M painted on one edge.
These stories weave together beautifully in April 1951 – New York City, New York, U.S.A. – but that’s not all. A second ending is for the fairy tale.
A book with three good stories inside a fairy tale – if this one doesn’t get discussed by the Newbery Committee, somebody isn’t paying attention!
My appetitie, appeased for the moment, tells me to head back to that grocery to be ready when hunger returns.