Historical fiction is a genre that I enjoy but seldom read. I like that this book is mostly realistic, but has a slight mystical/magical element to it. I think that magical element will make the book more interesting and manageable for kids. I liked that we were given several different main characters to follow spaced a few years apart. It shows how the war and the time period affected different types of people and kids. First we’re introduced to a character on the German side of things. It was interesting to read about Germans who did not agree with Hitler—often I think all Germans get lumped together as being Nazi supporters when that likely was not the case. This could teach kids not to make blanket assumptions about groups of people. Not everyone within a group is going to agree on everything (or anything). Children can see how even families may not agree on everything—even really important issues. In the end, you may not ever come to an agreement, but you’re still a family and should still love each other.
Next we’re introduced to an American orphan and we see what life is like for him and his brother. Again, it gives the reader a realistic view of the hard circumstances that some of these kids had to grow up in. With the war, a lot of children were left orphans for various reasons. Their fathers were likely off at war (or killed in combat) while disease was hard to avoid as well without our modern medicine. Even though not explicitly stated, Mike and Frankie’s story is set during the Great Depression (you can learn more about the Great Depression here). During this period of time it was especially difficult to care for children. As shown in the book, orphanages were overrun by boys (and girls) without families. I think this line from the book especially sums up what many children must have felt during this time period: “If the blues meant a song begging for its life, then Mike’s middle section of ‘America the Beautiful’ was a cry for a place to call home” (pg 338). Many children just wanted a home, but circumstance prevented them from having that.
Lastly, we’re introduced to a Mexican-American girl whose family is trying to find a place where they can truly settle down. We learn about some prejudices that existed against Mexicans and Mexican-Americans as well as what Japanese families had to deal with during the war. I was horrified at the treatment and suspicion that surrounded the Yamamotos. I was also deeply saddened by the Ward family as they grieved for their dead son. This book gives readers a little window into the everyday life of some of the normal people who were affected by the war. Another book that gives a window into everyday life during wartime is In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters. This book is set during World War I and also talks a lot about the Spanish Influenza. Like Echo, it’s a historical fiction book with a little bit of the fantastical thrown in. I would also recommend The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker. While I haven’t read it, I understand that it’s also about children living during World War II.