When the Nazis invaded Poland, a family is split apart. The parents are sent to one concentration camp, their son to another. Only his father's gift, a harmonica, keeps the boy's hopes alive and, miraculously, ensures his survival.
Tony Johnston's powerful story, inspired by the life of a Holocaust survivor, is enhanced by Ron Mazellan's luminous artwork.
A testament to the human spirit and the transcendent power of music.
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LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
The Harmonica, written by Tony Johnston and illustrated by Ron Mazellan is a 2004 Charlesbridge published Historical fiction about a Jewish boy in a concentration camp with his harmonica. The book although a great read, was emotionally difficult to read. The Holocaust is not an easy subject to read about whether it is a child’s picture book or an adult chapter book. I think that the author did a great job with building a relationship with the main family, showing their love, then tearing them apart by putting them in concentration camps. The author shows how horrible concentration camps were by explaining the deplorable living conditions. Besides the emotional struggles with the book, I found that the illustrations, writing and plot were very well thought out and organized. The author did a wonderful job with the illustrations. Not only do they enhance the story with how they are presented, the author did a great job categorizing the pictures into before and after categories. Before the concentration camps the pictures are very bright, warming, and inviting. After the move to the camps the pictures change to a dark and cold color that shows despair seeping out of the boy’s heart. A picture that really catches my eye is when the boy is playing the harmonica for the leader of the concentration camp. The boy is in front of a pale white background. The Commander is in front of a blood red background with a bowl of bread that looks like it is floating in blood. The Commander is flanked by his two attack dogs and he is holding a whip. This picture portrays the Nazi Commander as a blood thirsty villain who will punish others if his demands are not meet. This is just one example of the multiple times when the author uses his illustrations to have a symbol behind them. The writing in this story kept me involved in it and left me wondering what would happen next. I felt as though the writing was descriptive, very organized, and flowed very well. There is a part in the story when the boy is playing his harmonica, the writing describes that his fingers were so cold that they felt as if they were going to fall off. That they ached with so much pain he could almost not bare it. The writing is so organized that I could easily follow it back to the beginning of the story. It follows itself very well and helped to keep me engaged in the story. The writing seemed to almost come off the page and easily into my mind. The plot was very well designed and full of suspense and conflict. The boy loved playing his harmonica in front of his parents and then the prisoners of the camp. However, he felt a great deal of conflict when he was summoned to play in front of the Commander. He said that he felt sick playing for the Commander that he could not believe that he could play for a man that bought so much evil to his people. This creates a great deal of conflict in the story that keeps it alive and moving. Because this is a Holocaust book, suspense is present throughout the book. The whole time I found myself thinking thoughts like: Will the boy die? Will he find his parents? Are they still alive? This book kept me on my seat reading to find what would happen next just by the suspense alone. Family, racism, hope, and inner strength are all themes that are present in this story. The boy must hold his family close in his heart to make sure that he is not swallowed up by the concentration camp. His family keeps him alive and playing the harmonica through the camp. Racism is a minor theme in this story. The Commanders racism and hatred toward the boy and his people keeps the boy playing the harmonica out of spite. The hate that the boy feels for the commander keeps him playing through the story. Hope is one of the biggest allies that we can have in our darkest times. Hope helps the boy to play his harmonica in front of the most evil man he knows. That hope is the distant hope of his freedom. The boy shows a lot of inner strength through this story. He shows strength when he is separated from his family, when he plays for the people in the...
LibraryThing ReviewUser Review - LibraryThing
The Harmonica was a sad story about a Jewish family that was torn apart by the holocaust and to be honest I had a hard to finding the big picture or theme, in the end I decided to go it, family can be lost but never forgotten. I enjoyed the story mostly because it pushes the reader to learn about the holocaust and read about some of the awful things that happened. One major part that the book allows children to experience is the separation of a child from his parents. This is a very tough situation to read about as an adult let alone to hear about as a child. Another part of this book I enjoyed were the illustrations, the images are based very much on color to show emotion of the situation. In the beginning the boy and his family are singing and dancing together and the picture is very warm colors earthy tones, but when the Nazi's come in and take his parents the image is drawn with cool colors and very dark tones. This connection allows for children to not only hear about the emotions but also see them. The plot of this story was very well done as well with a short start up talking about how happy they were and how close the family was, to the transition to the conflict with the Nazi's. All the way to the concentration camps and they suffer and pain he endured in the camp to his release and freedom by the US army. This standard plot gives great story line for the children allowing them to connect and learn with the story.