Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

The Harmonica

Johnston, Tony (Author)
Mazellan, Ron (Illustrator)
Charlesbridge 2008. 32 pages
First published: 2004
ISBN: 9781570914898 (paperback)
9781570915475 (hardcover)
Original language: English
Book type: Picture Book

Text Elements:

character, characterization, figurative language, setting

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

A Jewish boy and his family are “poor as pigeons” but share a love for singing and dancing and the music of Schubert. When they are separated and taken to different concentration camps during World War II, the starving “skin-and-bone boy,” fearing that his parents are dead, finds hope in the silver harmonica his father once gave him.

A difficult but engaging narrative, the book uses rich, poetic language that manages to tug at the heartstrings while steering clear of melodrama. Full-bleed mixed-media illustrations in a warm, rich palette depict the boy’s family life in Poland before they are taken away by the Nazis. Those showing life in the camps employ cold, darker tones to capture the solemnity of the subject matter, including the boy’s feelings about being ordered to play his harmonica for a commandant who wears “ugliness and death upon his shoulders like epaulets.”

Inspired by the true experiences of a Holocaust survivor, this tale about a dark time in history conveys a poignant message about the resilience of the human heart.

  •  

    Discuss the book and the role music played in the boy’s life. Why do you think he felt guilty about playing for the German commandant? 

  •  

    Listen to some of Schubert’s music and find a piece that makes you feel hopeful. Explain why. Create a simile to express how you feel about a favourite piece of music: it’s like the wind in a storm; it’s like . . . 

  •  

    Discuss how the illustrator uses colour in the book. How does it affect the mood of the story?

  •  

    Discuss the book and the role music played in the boy’s life. Why do you think he felt guilty about playing for the German commandant? How would you have felt about playing for him?

  •  

    Listen to some of Schubert’s music and find a piece that makes you feel hopeful. Explain why. Create a simile to express how you feel about a favourite piece of music: it’s like the wind in a storm; it’s like. . . 

  •  

    In this story, the boy played the harmonica to remember his parents and to feel better. Discuss what you do and how you cope when you are faced with difficult moments in your life.

  •  Listen to several different musical pieces composed by Franz Schubert. While listening, gather words that convey the emotions and mood associated with each musical piece. Discuss your choices.
  •  Which piece do you imagine the boy playing for the commandant? Explain why in your journal. What song from today would bring you peace and comfort? Why?
  •  Research another true story where music was the key to surviving oppression or persecution. Share your findings creatively.
  • To construct his/her identity
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use creativity
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Music
  • Social Sciences