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Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk – Book Review

Title: Echo Mountain

Author: Lauren Wolk

Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers

Release Date: April 21, 2020

RATING: 4.5 Stars

As the Great Depression devastates the country, Ellie and her family have had to make difficult choices and even more difficult sacrifices. After her parents fall victim to the economic crisis, the family moves away from town and carves out a life from the harsh and unforgiving landscape around Echo Mountain. Survival requires hard work, skill, and a will to conquer any obstacle brought on by Mother Nature. While Ellie and her family make a life on Echo Mountain, tragedy befalls the family when Ellie’s father is struck by a falling tree and lies in a coma for months. Ellie unfairly but obligingly shoulders the blame for the accident. Her desire to help and heal others motivates her to do whatever it takes to bring her father back. As Ellie traverses the mountain, she meets new people, identifies new needs, and discovers new ways to heal, giving her the hope and the insight to bring peace to all that have been suffering on Echo Mountain.

Lauren Wolk is one of the best middle grade authors to date, and Echo Mountain is another testament to this bold statement. The writing is exquisite, the tale’s threads are tangled and tantalizing but always connected together, and she skillfully transforms nature into a character unto itself. Harking back to simpler times, readers may find themselves yearning to be outdoors after being immersed in Wolk’s spellbinding prose. The vivid imagery of Ellie’s experiences will remain imprinted in the mind’s eye long after the last page. In addition to Wolk’s expressive prose, Echo Mountain’s lessons are not easily learned, they are earned. Ellie and company work tirelessly to persevere and overcome. Such lessons are balanced by the characters’ imperfections, and these flaws make their journeys not only interesting but also relatable. Yes, Ellie presents as older and more mature than twelve, and the novel does grow sprawling and verbose. Still, Wolk’s writing is so good any reader would gladly stay immersed in the story for another hundred pages in order to consume more of her beautiful prose.

Echo Mountain is a fantastic work of fiction. Teachers should certainly encourage students to read Wolk’s novel. It will challenge them. It will change them. Students willing to take on Echo Mountain will be rewarded in more ways than one. Such transformations cannot be predicted but can be counted on thanks to the clear links to universal themes Wolk’s vivid writing conjures. All characters assume the white default.

Classroom Applications

  • Cross-curricular Study – Teach the novel in conjunction with a nonfiction study of the Great Depression, mountain life, or survival skills.
  • Book Club or Book Exchange – Share the novel with students that enjoy reading historical fiction.
  • Literature Circles – Use novel for small groups or choice reading with a variety of books that are about life in the U.S. during the Great Depression.

Nonfiction Connections: The list below outlines topics that will enrich your students’ understanding of the novel.

  • The Great Depression
  • Mountain Life
  • Survival Skills

Book Companions: The following are great books to pair with Echo Mountain. In parenthesis are the specific aspects students could explore when synthesizing across the texts.

  • Pixie Pushes On by Tamara Bundy (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)
  • Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (Character Connections, Themes, Nonfiction Connections)

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