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The Harmonica Hardcover – February 1, 2004


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Product Details

  • Age Range: 7 - 10 years
  • Grade Level: 3 - 5
  • Lexile Measure: 620L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 32 pages
  • Publisher: Charlesbridge (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1570915474
  • ISBN-13: 978-1570915475
  • Product Dimensions: 11.4 x 9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #956,965 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 3-6-Inspired by the story of a Holocaust survivor, this exquisite picture book is poignant and powerful. Simple sentences charged with delicate word choices briefly recount the first-person narration of a poor but happy boy and his parents in Poland who were captured, split up, and taken to concentration camps. The youngster manages to take with him the harmonica his father gave him, on which he plays Schubert. The commandant of the camp learns of his talents and orders him to, "Play, Jew!" The boy complies-and finds out that the whole camp hears him and takes heart from the music. The mixed-media illustrations change from a warm to cold palette to underscore the move from home to camp. While the story is set in World War II, the theme is broader, and makes a case for the power of music/art to support and sustain humanity. There is an appended note about the life of Henryk Rosmaryn.
Cris Riedel, Ellis B. Hyde Elementary School, Dansville, NY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gr. 3-6. Based on a true survivor story, this powerful picture book is yet another astonishing Holocaust account for discussion. A Polish Jewish child, blissfully happy with his loving parents, gets a harmonica from his coal-miner father and learns to play Schubert while his parents dance. The realistic mixed-media, double-page illustrations contrast that glowing warmth of home with the darkness that comes when Nazi soldiers break down the door, separate the boy from his family, and send him to the camps. His harmonica becomes his solace. The commandant hears about the child's playing. He orders the boy to play Schubert and throws him bread. In the end, however, the music does nothing to humanize the brutal Nazis. In fact, one unforgettable picture shows the commandant blissfully listening to the music, one hand over his heart and the other holding a whip. The home memories are idyllic, but there's absolutely no sentimentality about the child's survival. Johnston gives children and grown-ups lots to talk about here--for example, Can a person be both sensitive and cruel? Hazel Rochman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

This is another such tale, based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor.
Dawn Matheson
It falls under the category of "Illustrated Books About the Holocaust", but it is too depressing for youngsters, and too obscure for older students.
LA Librarian
Sometimes a book falls into your hands that you know will carve a road through your heart before you open it.
Shanshad

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Shanshad VINE VOICE on October 12, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Sometimes a book falls into your hands that you know will carve a road through your heart before you open it. In this case, from the cover illustration and title, I knew that Tony Johnston's picture book; THE HARMONICA would be such a read. Inspired by the true story of Henryk Rosmaryn, this picture book takes readers on a journey through the nightmare of the Holocaust.

The story itself is poignant, painful and full of the hope that human beings find in the worst of times. Our narrator is a young boy with the gift of music who lives in Poland. Despite their poverty, his father acquires a harmonica for him. But this joyous time is short lived when the Nazi's arrive, tearing his parents away and sending him off to live in a concentration camp. A commandant hears him playing Schubert on the harmonica one night and demands the boy to play for him every night in exchange for bread. Ultimately, the boy finds strength through his playing and realizes it is a way to give his fellow prisoners hope in the darkness. There are, of course, many books on this subject-many good books. I think I can safely say this joins their ranks. Ms. Johnston's simple, lyrical text is both poetic and harsh in its narration. That is evident from the opening lines "I cannot remember my father's face, or my mother's, but I remember their love, warm and enfolding as a song." The text never falters, and never becomes overwrought. With a large font, and only a few lines per page, the story unfolds more like a poem than a straight narrative.

This is illustrator Ron Mazellan's first children's book, and it is a stunning achievement. With a mixture of art mediums, the images come to life in rich color and texture.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By LA Librarian on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This book is essentially an earnest and well-illustrated poem, although it is difficult to imagine who might ever choose to read it. It falls under the category of "Illustrated Books About the Holocaust", but it is too depressing for youngsters, and too obscure for older students. The notes at the end tell us that the book was inspired by the true story of Henryk Rosmaryn, who survived a concentration camp with the help of his talent on the harmonica. The poem that constitutes this story relates the sorrowful tale of a contented, poor, but musical family that is destroyed by the Holocaust. Most of the lines are bleak, such as:

"Often, to keep from losing hope, I touched the harmonica,

cold inside my pocket.

I wept when I thought of my father and mother.

I awoke jolted from sleep. And I knew--

My parents were dead.

Then I played Shubert.

Played and played while my heart reeled.

The boy in the story plays Shubert on his harmonica for the camp commandant, who tosses him bread, and thus he manages to stay alive. There is also the hope that the boy's music has also managed to uplift the spirits of other prisoners at the camp. The illustrations are well done but dark, especially the painting of the commandant with his black dogs and whip. In general, a curious choice for publication in a genre that is saturated with too many dreary books of this kind. Recommended only for ages 12 -up who are interested in the Holocaust.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Vance 202 on February 4, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This picture book is based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor, who is torn away from his family at an early age. His harmonica keeps his connection to his parents alive and the memories they shared.
The content of this picture book is of serious nature,and provides realistic images of what the boy has to endure during his time at the concentration camp. It is not recommended for children under 10.
The book is very dark and quite grim. However, the language in the story has a lyrical flow and the word choice creates vivid imagery. A read aloud of this story leaves the reader with an eerie feeling.
The illustrations complement the message from the text and reflect the boy's memories and feelings.
--Vance 202
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dawn Matheson on June 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover
A semi-finalists in the 2005 Independent Publisher Book Awards!

A young Polish boy, living with his parents in a house filled with love and music, yearns for a piano so he can play the music of his favorite composer, Schubert. But the family is poor, and it is the gift of a harmonica that lets the boy make music - until the Nazis find them. Torn from his parents, the boy plays his harmonica in his concentration camp to keep from forgetting what once was and from losing all hope. When the camp commandant hears of his musical prowess, the boy is forced to play for the Nazi. Ashamed of receiving scraps of bread from the officer while others starve, he eventually hears heartfelt thanks from another prisoner. He realizes that, "Each night, like the very stars, my notes had reached other prisoners." From then on, when ordered to play, the boy does so with all his heart. There are few happy tales from the Holocaust. But there are many stories of man's indomitable spirit, something that transcends the horrors of that time and place. This is another such tale, based on the true story of a Holocaust survivor. And it expresses the uplifting power of music, which no walls can contain. Luminous illustrations help make this book a masterpiece.

[...]
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