Jenifer Pastore and Pam Munoz Ryan

Author signing at the ILA conference in St. Louis, MO. July 2015

I’ll be honest. When I decided to read Echo (Grades 5-9, Lexile 680) with my class, it was for selfish reasons. Pam Muñoz Ryan is one of my favorite authors, and Echo had been on my stack since the week it was published. But, with so many books and so little time, Echo, and its nearly 600 pages, just sat there … waiting to be read.

Before long, Twitter came alive with announcements of all the awards this book was receiving. By this time, I not only had one copy of the book, but also I had a second book, signed by the author herself. I couldn’t wait any longer. Echo needed to be read.

So our journey began. Pam Muñoz Ryan took my class across the world to a time and place that absolutely intrigued us. With magic, music and stories of bravery, we were mesmerized. Each day as I closed the book my students cried out, “NO!” and begged me to keep reading. Literally begged. “How can she do that to us?” they would moan as we were left hanging again and again at the end of a chapter. Or worse, at the end of an entire storyline!

A Warm Welcome Into the Genre of Historical Fiction

So what began as a sit-back-and-enjoy-the-magic-of-this-author’s-writing became an in-depth exploration of the rise of Hitler and the Nazi Party, the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the impact of World War II. It became an appreciation for beautiful music and composers and a journey into the lives of three very ordinary children who persevered through extraordinary challenges unheard of by 9 and 10-year-olds. And for many of my students, it was a warm welcome into the genre of historical fiction.

From the beginning it was impossible to just sit back and enjoy Echo. There was so much more they wanted to know! Why would someone join the Nazi party? How could Hitler get away with such terrible things? One afternoon, Jena walked out of class shaking her head, mumbling to herself, “I can’t believe this. I need to do some research on this Hitler guy.”

Lessons based on Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo: Echo Timeline

Our timeline helped us realize the impact of the historical events on the lives of the characters.

Lessons based on Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo: Echo WWII New York TImes

We used the On This Day archive from The New York Times.


Lessons Based on Pam Muniz Ryan’s Echo

Soon after we started reading, we needed a timeline so we could see how Friedrich’s, Mike’s and Ivy’s lives were woven into the events of the war. We wondered and predicted how their stories would somehow be connected in order to fulfill the promise and the prophecy, with one simple harmonica. The timeline was the tool that helped us realize the impact of the historical events on the lives of the characters. These deep discussions solidified our understanding of cause and effect.

As we continued to read, a new book basket was needed in our library. My students were hungry for information about World War II and life in Nazi Germany. They read the books as fast as I could gather them up! We searched online and found photographs of Hitler saluting the troops as they invaded Poland, workers digging trenches in the hard labor camps and posters demanding the relocation of all Japanese Americans to internment camps. We listened to FDR’s historic speech where the U.S. declared war on Japan on December 8, 1941, and we read the headlines of the New York Times.

Many of my students continued to do their own research at home and reported back to us. Mackenzie came in one morning with close to 25 sticky notes filled with facts she collected about Adolf Hitler. Palmer wondered aloud if the character, Otto, was coincidentally given the name of Adolf Hitler’s brother or if it was the intention of the author.

World War II Heroes Eyewitness World War II I Survived The Nazi Invasion, 1944 National Geographic Kids Anne Frank What Was Pearl Harbor?

The Bracelet by Yoshiko UchidaAs the story progressed, the setting changed to California, and we met Ivy. I noticed around this time that my students had begun to lose some interest. I realized it was because they did not have the background knowledge to understand the liBaseball Save Usves of migrant farmers, and they struggled to really understand what it meant to “relocate to an internment camp.” So, we paused the story to fill in some of these gaps. We made connections between Ivy’s school and the school segregation they learned about in previous years. We read The Bracelet (Grades 1-4, Level R, Lexile AD710) by Yoshiko Uchida and Joanna Yardly and Baseball Saved Us (Grades 1-3, Level O, Lexile AD550) by Ken Mochizuki so they could understand the reality of what was happening and how those events impacted Ivy. We looked at photographs of families holding the only possessions they were allowed to take with them, whatever they could carry. And we were shocked to learn as we studied maps, that two of these camps were located in our home state of Arkansas!

Lessons based on Pam Munoz Ryan's Echo: Echo Japanese Camps

And intertwined throughout all the stories, there’s the music so masterfully woven throughout the lives of the characters. Each character’s story begins with the music and lyrics to a song that holds importance throughout the section. In order to set the tone for our reading, we began each new part of the book by listening to the music: “Brahms’ Lullaby,” “America the Beautiful,” “Auld Lang Syne” and “One Enchanted Evening”. We also reread a section of the story, listening as it was read on the audio. I wanted my students to appreciate the role the music played in the book.

Next Time…

For my class, Echo began as a story to enjoy, but it became some of the most powerful teaching and learning in our fourth grade classroom this year. I am already looking forward to sharing Echo with my next class. However, next time it will be an intentional journey into an amazing piece of fiction. Next time, I will collaborate with our music program so students can make connections to the composers and listen to the music as Echo references the pieces. Next time, I will be better prepared to supplement the book with amazing literature, biographies and non-fiction that will allow my students to immerse themselves in the history and fall in love with the genre. Next time, we will really, really listen to the language of the text so we can appreciate how Pam Muñoz Ryan crafts the words into a melody of their own. Next time…

Books that we will be certain to read…next time.

The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco The Cats in Krasinski Square by Karen Hesse Dear Miss Breed Irena Sendler And The Children Of The Warsaw Ghetto

Books that I will encourage my students to try on their own…

Is it Night or Day? Number the Stars The Boy On The Wooden Box Dear America The Fences Between Us


I would love to learn from you! Please share any of your text set ideas or lessons based on Pam Muniz Ryan’s Echo in the comments below!

Booksource Recommendations

WWII Elementary CollectionWWII Grades K-2

WWII Intermediate CollectionWWII Grades 3-6

WWII Middle School CollectionWWII Grades 6-8