A shy child, Otto hopes to impress Mathilde by eluding capture in the village children’s game of hide-and-seek. Settling down for a long wait in the forest, he begins to read a book he purchased earlier that day from a gypsy woman.
The story is about three daughters of a king, separated from their family and living with a mean witch. The story captivates Otto until the cold and damp of evening rouse him. Where are his friends? In a hurry to return home, the boy trips, hitting his head. When he awakens from the blow, he finds three young girls standing over him. Could they really be the three princesses from the book?
They promise to help him find his way home if he, in turn, helps them. They take turns playing his harmonica, commanding him to give it away when he finds someone in need. Otto suddenly hears the voices of villagers looking for him, and he returns home with his father, his adventure over. His harmonica, however, has only begun its journey.
Pam Munoz Ryan’s fantasy/historical fiction novel spans several decades of the 20th century. Otto’s enchanted harmonica visits Hitler’s Germany, Philadelphia during the Great Depression and Southern California after Pearl Harbor. Each of its owners has a personal struggle to overcome: discrimination, poverty and family tragedy. The harmonica plays a special role in each of their lives.
Cliffhangers at the end of each part of the book leave the reader guessing as to whether tragedy will strike or be averted. The author manages to tie together the story of her characters in an unrealistic manner. Although the book is presented as a fantasy novel, there is little magical about the plot. It will appeal primarily to children who study music because Ryan includes detailed descriptions of several songs in each chapter.
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is currently a full-time wife and mother.