The Harmonica of Hope
A review of The
Harmonica, by Tony Johnston
Watertown: Charlesbridge Publishing, 2004, 32 pages, $15.95
By Mitchell Bard
I always find it admirable when an author can write
a book for children (the publisher recommends ages 6-11) that illustrates
the triumph of the spirit of Holocaust
survivors and conveys a sense of the horror without describing it. In
The Harmonica, Tony Johnston tells a simple, yet powerful tale
about a boy from a Polish family that was torn apart by the Nazis.
The book is based on the true story of Henry Rosmarin,
whose family shared a love of music, particularly Schubert. The unnamed
protagonist is a boy who receives a harmonica from his father and learns
to play the composer’s music. When the boy is separated from his
parents and sent to a concentration
camp, he plays his harmonica to find comfort and to sustain hope.
After the camp commandant, a lover of Schubert, learned
of the boy’s musical talent, he would summon him to play and reward
him with scraps of bread. At first the boy feels ashamed for doing anything
for the evil camp overlord, but he learned that other prisoners also
found comfort in his music, and that inspired him to continue playing.
Beautifully illustrated by Ron Magellan, The Harmonica
achieves the difficult trick of making a Holocaust story a sweet children’s