Student Activities for Echo
Essential Questions for Echo
- Who are some of the main characters and what challenges do they face?
- What are some of the symbols and motifs present in the novel? How does the symbolism help you better understand the characters and their motivations?
- What are some of the themes present in the novel?
- What messages, lessons, or morals does the author try to impart to the reader?
- How does the author use music to connect the characters throughout the story?
The novel is divided into four different parts: Otto's story in the late 1800s in Germany; Friedrich's story in 1933 in Germany; Mike's story in 1935 in Pennsylvania; and Ivy's story in 1942 in Southern California.
Prologue: Otto's Story
Echo begins with a young boy named Otto playing hide and seek in the Black Forest in Germany in the late 1800s. The author tells us it is 50 years before the "war to end all wars", or WWI. Otto was hiding from his friend Mathilde, whom he has a crush on. He bought a book and harmonica from a traveling woman that day. Bored while waiting to be found, he sat down and began to read. The book was a fairy tale called "The 13th Harmonica of Otto Messenger". He was drawn to the book because the title included his name.
The book described a King and Queen who longed for children to be heirs to the throne. However, when the queen gave birth to a girl, the terrible and uncaring king was angry. Only a boy could be heir to the throne, so he thought a daughter to be useless. He secretly made the midwife take the child away and told the distraught queen that the baby had died in childbirth.
The midwife was a kind and caring woman. Rather than leave the helpless child to the wolves as the king had instructed, she took the baby to her cousin, a witch who lived in the forest. The midwife knew that the witch would not be capable of being the best mother, but she figured it was far better than leaving the child to die in the forest. The midwife gave the tiny baby a special blessing before departing. She said: “Your fate is not yet sealed. Even in the darkest night, a star will shine, a bell will chime, a path will be revealed.”
The queen gave birth two more times two years apart each. Each time, it was a daughter and the king's response was the same. Every time, the midwife did what she thought was right: entrusted the babies to the witch and gave them the special blessing. The witch heartlessly called them Eins, Zwei, and Drei (One, Two, Three).
Otto was so absorbed in reading that when he looked up from the book, he realized he was lost in the forest. Trying to find his way, he came upon three girls. They were Eins, Zwei, and Drei! When he said that they must be the girls from his book, they asked him to continue reading their story.
It continued with the Queen finally giving birth to a boy while Eins, Zwei, and Drei were left to serve the witch deep in the forest in a life of drudgery. With the birth of a son, the King was overjoyed and announced the baby as his first child, the heir to the throne. After a few years, the cruel King passed away and the Midwife finally broke her silence about the three sisters in the woods, telling the young crown prince and his mother, the Queen. They longed to see the girls and bring them home where they belonged. The midwife went to fetch them to bring them back to their mother and brother. But, the selfish witch did not want to lose her servants. She spitefully cast a curse to trap Eins, Zwei, and Drei and keep them from leaving the forest forever! The curse said: "A messenger brought you about. One-and-the-same must bring you out. You may not leave in earthly form. Your spirits to a woodwind born. You save a soul from Death's dark door, or here you'll languish ever more."
At this point "The 13th Harmonica of Otto Messenger" ends and is left with only blank pages. Eins, Zwei, and Drei confirmed that the story is true and that they had indeed been trapped in the forest ever since the witch's curse. They believe that Otto's harmonica was the key to their salvation. They each play music on the harmonica, infusing it with their energy. Then, they helped Otto to safety. His frantic parents find him after searching for him for hours. While Otto made it out of the forest safely, he was sad that nobody believed his story. Only Mathilde believed him. After a while, to please his parents, he stopped telling the story of Eins, Zwei, and Drei, and put the book and harmonica away for many years.
Part One: Friedrich's Story
Friedrich Schmidt was born with a birthmark that covers half of his face. While Friedrich's loving father, Martin, encouraged his creativity and reassured him, Friedrich's misguided peers treated him horribly because of his appearance. To spare Friedrich from their torment, Martin homeschooled him. He also brought Friedrich along as an apprentice at the Trossingen Harmonica factory. Martin and his brother, Friedrich's jovial Uncle Gunter, worked there. The factory workers were kind and Friedrich flourished in his harmonica making, his studies, and his music. However, in 1933, things were quickly changing for the worse in Germany with Hitler's rise to power.
Friedrich loved music and dreamed of becoming a great conductor one day. He could always hear music playing in his mind. This was a comfort and delight for him. But, when he conducted an invisible orchestra wildly, he caught the derision of his peers. One day Friedrich heard a harmonica calling to him from an abandoned workspace. His Uncle Gunter had taught him to play harmonica and Friedrich could tell this one was special. It had a red M marked on it. Everyone who heard Friedrich play the harmonica agreed that it had an especially unusual tone. Every time he played it, he was filled with a sense of empowerment and confidence.
Friedrich also played cello like his father, who used to perform in a symphony orchestra. His sister Elisabeth played piano, and the family bonded over music, often playing together. However, while Elisabeth trained to be a nurse, she became brainwashed by Hitler's ideology, much to her father's dismay. Friedrich's father was outspoken about his opposition to Hitler's bigoted, barbaric policies. Because of this, Martin was arrested by Nazi Brownshirts and sent to Dachau concentration camp! People in Dauchau were tortured and worked to the point of death. Friedrich and Uncle Gunter made a secret plan to get him out and even risked asking the "Hitlerite" Elisabeth for her help in rescuing her father. Surprisingly, Elisabeth came through and secretly sent Friedrich and Uncle Gunter enough money to bribe the guards at Dachau and secure their father's release. Friedrich knew he could not take anything of value on his mission to save his father. He placed his prized harmonica in a box at the Trossingen Harmonica Factory to be shipped to customers somewhere in the world. Everything was in place for his escape, however, when Friedrich boarded the train to Dachau he was spotted by Nazi soldiers! When they tried to arrest him, Friedrich heard beautiful music in his mind. He began to conduct his imaginary orchestra wildly! This is where the author leaves the reader hanging in suspense.
Part Two: Mike's Story
Mike Flannery and his little brother Frankie lived in Bishop's orphanage in 1935, just outside Philadelphia. They had a loving mother who died while they were young. Then, they were raised by their kind-hearted and musical grandmother until she fell ill. She sent them to Bishop's because it had a piano that they could play. She taught Mike to play piano when he was very young, and he was very talented. However, Bishop's was not what it seemed to be to their grandmother. The headmistress of Bishop's was the unscrupulous and corrupt Mrs. Pennyweather. Mrs. Pennyweather treated the orphans poorly and unfairly. She was even going to send the younger orphans like young Frankie away to a state orphanage with horrible conditions. She prefered older boys who could work for nearby farmers so that she could secretly pocket the money they earned. Mike was afraid that he and Frankie would be split up and was desperate to keep Frankie out of the state orphanage. Unfortunately there were not a lot of people adopting orphans at the time. It was during the Great Depression, and times were especially hard for most people.
Mike and Frankie's luck changed when a lawyer, Mr. Howard, arrived looking for a boy who could play piano. This seemed like a mysterious request. Mrs. Pennyweather assumed it was because he was going to buy their piano and she was happy to make some money. Mike, being a prodigy on the piano, played alongside Frankie, and the two boys wowed the lawyer. Mr. Howard revealed that he was not interested in purchasing the piano but, in fact, was looking to adopt a boy who could play as his employer, Mrs. Sturbridge, was herself a retired concert pianist and she needed to adopt a child. The boys were so happy to be adopted together and were intrigued by the idea of the wealthy Mrs. Sturbridge. The trouble was, when they arrived, Mrs. Sturbridge seemed very upset by the idea. It appeared she did not want to adopt them after all.
Mr. Howard assured the boys that everything would be alright. However, Mrs. Sturbridge (Eunice) ignored the boys for weeks despite their best efforts. Mr. and Mrs. Potter, the groundskeeper and housekeeper, helped care for the boys. Mr. Potter even taught them to play harmonica after Mr. Howard bought them a very special harmonica at the store. Mike proved to be just as talented on the harmonica as he was on the piano. Whenever he played the instrument, he was filled with self confidence.
Finally, the truth was revealed that Mrs. Sturbridge was being forced to adopt the boys because of a wish in her late father's will. She had tragically lost her own son and was still grieving, which was why she was so reluctant to get to know the boys. Mike begged Mrs. Sturbridge to adopt Frankie at least. He feared for Frankie if he were sent back to Bishop's because he knew that Mrs. Pennyweather would send him to the horrible state orphanage. While he didn't relish being separated from his little brother, he pleaded with Mrs. Sturbridge to open her heart to Frankie. Mike said he would audition for a famous harmonica band and live with the band so Mrs. Sturbridge wouldn't have to worry about him. Mrs. Sturbridge appeared to agree to Mike's deal.
The boys began bonding as a family, calling Mrs. Sturbridge Aunt Eunie. She even played the piano again, something she stopped after the death of her son. Mike auditioned for the harmonica band and impressed them with his talent. However, before he got the results he found a letter to Eunice revoking the adoption! Mike was devastated and decided to run away with Frankie in the middle of the night so that they wouldn't be separated. In their attempt to flee Mike alarmingly fell from a high tree! Again, the reader is left in suspense, wondering what will happen to Mike and Frankie.
Part Three: Ivy's Story
Ivy Maria Lopez lived in California with her mother, father, and brother Fernando in 1942. Her parents were migrant farmers who moved often for work. When WWII broke out, Fernando went to fight and the family missed him very much. Another shock came when Ivy heard they'd be moving again, this time to a farm where they may own some of the land after the lease was up. Her parents were thrilled, but Ivy was sad to leave her favorite teacher, her best friend, and her opportunity to play in her school band and on the radio with her new special harmonica.
Ivy and her family moved to the new farm, which they leased from the Yamamoto family. The Yamamotos had been forcibly moved to a concentration camp because of their Japanese heritage after Executive Order 9066. They had to leave everything behind and only carry small suitcases. Therefore, their house, land, and all of their belongings were left unattended on the farm. It was helpful for the Lopez family to come care for the farm in their absence so the Yamamotos wouldn't lose their property. Despite the terrible circumstances, Ivy's family was grateful for the opportunity.
As they settled into their routine on the farm, Ivy looked forward to starting school with her new friend and neighbor Susan Ward. However, on the first day she realized that she was forced to go to a separate school because of her Mexican heritage! The white children teased her and made racist and ignorant remarks. Ivy was devastated. She did not understand this injustice. Her parents vowed to fight segregation in whatever way they could.
Meanwhile, Susan and Ivy became close despite being separated during the school day. They played in the school band together after school which Ivy was allowed to join. Ivy impressed everyone with her talent on the harmonica. When she played it, she was filled with conviction and courage.
Ivy learned that Susan had two brothers who fought in the war and one had been killed in action. Susan's parents were still reeling from the loss. Despite the fact that Susan's brothers were best friends with Kenny Yamamoto, their neighbor, and even enlisted together, Susan's father, Mr. Ward, was convinced that the Yamamoto's were somehow Japanese spies. He blamed them for his son's death. He insisted on searching the Yamamoto house for clues. However, rather than finding signs of espionage, Mr. Ward and the Lopez's found a room full of instruments. They were being stored for safekeeping for dozens of Japanese American families that had been forced to go to the concentration camps and leave all their prized possessions behind.
Ivy continued to excel at school and in the band, and her teacher encouraged her to take up the flute. Kenny Yamamoto, who was on temporary leave from the army, came to visit the farm to sign papers to formalize the Lopez's lease. Kenny was grateful the Lopez family would care for the farm in his family's absence. When he was leaving, Ivy felt compelled to give Kenny her special harmonica to keep while he was away at war. Then, one day on her way home from school, Ivy and Susan spotted a telegram messenger at her door. Telegram messengers only meant bad news! They were usually dispatched to alert the family and a soldier died in battle! Ivy prayed Fernando was alright. A third time the reader is left wondering the fate of the characters.
Part Four: Epilogue
Part Four begins with Friedrich Schmidt many years later as he recalls the events of that fateful day in Germany aboard the train to Dachau. In the commotion, the train had begun to leave the station. To avoid being stuck on the train, the Nazi soldiers jumped off, miraculously leaving Friedrich behind. Friedrich managed to travel to Dachau and rescue his father with the bribe money Elisabeth had given him. Friedrich's father, Martin, was badly beaten and malnourished and it took months for him to recover. Eventually, Martin and Friedrich made their way to Switzerland where they met Uncle Gunther and managed to survive the war.
Friedrich pursued music in Switzerland and achieved his dream of becoming a great conductor. At the end of the novel in 1951, he is seen conducting a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. His father and Uncle Gunter are proudly in attendance in the audience. They still hold out hope to reunite with Elisabeth someday and they reminisce over how far they have come.
Next, the reader sees Mike Flannery, dressed in a tuxedo and greeting Mrs. Sturbridge, Mr. Howard and Frankie at Carnegie Hall. He recalls that many years ago, he luckily survived his fall with nothing more than some scrapes and bruises. It turned out Mrs. Sturbridge (Aunt Eunie) did, in fact, want to adopt the boys. She burned the letter Mike had found to prove it. And, she didn't just want to adopt Frankie but Mike as well! They all moved in together with Mr. Howard and Mr. and Mrs. Potter and lived happily. Mike did make it into the Harmonica Band and played with them for a year. Then he decided to concentrate more on piano and gave his harmonica to a group that was collecting them for those in need. Mike felt a duty to pass the special harmonica along.
Mike continued to pursue his dream of being a concert pianist and was accepted at the prestigious Julliard after high school. During WWII, he joined the army but after his tour, he returned to music. At the end of the story, in 1951, Mike plays a piano solo at Carnegie Hall in New York city with his supportive family, Aunt Eunie, Frankie, and Mr. Howard in the audience cheering him on.
Then, the reader sees Ivy as a young woman getting ready for her debut at Carnegie Hall on the flute. She thinks back to that frightening day many years ago with the telegram. Her family was relieved to find out that luckily, Fernando was only wounded in action. He came home from the war and eventually married a teacher who worked at the combined school that Ivy's parents and many others had worked hard to desegregate. The Yamamotos came home, too, after the war and were able to regain their farm. Kenny Yamamoto had also miraculously survived the war all thanks to the lucky harmonica that Ivy had given him! Ivy continued to pursue her passion for music and became an accomplished flute player. At the end of the story, in 1951, Ivy is the new young flute player for the Empire Philharmonic in New York. She is giving a performance in Carnegie Hall and in the audience cheering her on is her dear friend, Kenny Yamamoto.
Finally, we are taken back to Trossingen in the late 1800s to Otto. When he grew up, he became a harmonica maker in a shop in Trossingen and finally did his duty as "Messenger" by bringing the fateful harmonica to the shop. He marked it with a red M and from there the harmonica would travel throughout the world from Germany to Pennsylvania to California and back. As fate would have it, Eins, Zwei, and Drei's freedom came when they saved Kenny Yamamoto from the brink of death after being wounded in the war. The harmonica had stopped a bullet from piercing his heart! The witch's spell was broken and the three sisters were finally reunited with their mother and brother. They were renamed Arabella, Roswitha, and Wilhelminia and lived thereafter happily surrounded by their loving family.
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