is a core text for NHPS fourth grade teachers. This section is included for music teachers or other teachers who are unfamiliar with the book.
Yolonda lives in Chicago with her little brother, Andrew, and their mother. After a shooting at their school, and in a separate incident, a boy gives Andrew a packet of cocaine, their mother decides to move to Grand River, Michigan.
Yolonda is a good student, which wasn't a “black thing” or “cool” in Chicago. At her new school, other students bully her, calling her a whale. Yolonda stands up for herself, often snapping back at bullies, and making them look foolish in front of their friends. Andrew, who is in first grade, is not as academically smart as Yolonda. He cannot read, and attends a special class at school for slow learners. He does, however, have an incredible talent for someone his age – he can play the harmonica that his father gave him when he was a baby.
While in class, Andrew hides his harmonica in his pocket so his teacher won't take it away. Even with it hidden, he wishes he could play his answers to his teacher. His teacher wants him to explain what is happening in a picture, but he can't seem to say an answer. He does know exactly what he would play on his harmonica to show a ball bouncing, or a dog jumping, but he cannot say the words.
After school, Andrew watches some of the older boys at the skate park. As the skaters fly by, he wishes he could play his harmonica and wooden pipe at the same time, so he could play the “sweet, clear sound” he hears in his head.
At school, Yolonda is still struggling to make friends. The other students call her a teacher's pet when she answers questions in class. One girl at school asks if Yolonda is a genius. Unfamiliar with the word, Yolonda goes to the library to look it up in the word. After reading the definition, Yolonda realizes that she is not a genius. She's not the one who had a natural talent or could rearrange old material in a new way. Yolonda realizes that Andrew is the one who is a genius, and that no one understands Andrew because it is the rest of the world that isn't smart enough. When Yolonda tells Andrew he must be a genius, Andrew thinks she is name-calling and making fun of him.
Back at the skate park, some of the boys talk about how Andrew is a pain when he hangs out there, and that nobody likes him. Andrew is at the park, and Yolonda, who has finally made a friend from school, forgets to check on him. While he is at the park, one of the boys breaks Andrew's harmonica. He tells Andrew to stay away and play on the swings instead. Andrew stares at the broken harmonica, expecting it to bleed. With the harmonica broken, Andrew feels like his hand holding the pieces is a coffin. When he gets home, his room and bed feel foreign to him, like he's from another world.
Eventually, his mother finds the broken pieces buried outside. She says that since school has been complaining about Andrew carrying it around, maybe it's for the best that it's gone. Yolonda firmly believes that Andrew needs his harmonica, but their mother disagrees. When Yolonda insists that Andrew is a musical genius, her mother brushes the comment away. Since Yolonda neglected Andrew the day the harmonica broke, she feels the need to do something to fix things. She wants to bring Andrew back from the sullen boy he has become since the harmonica broke. Yolonda confronts the boy who broke the harmonica, and buys Andrew a new one.
Yolonda and Andrew's Aunt Tiny comes to visit them in their new home, and convinces Momma to come back and visit Chicago. While they are there, Momma, Tiny, Yolonda, and Andrew attend a blues music festival. While at the concert, a boy, separated from his parents, is pulled onstage to announce that he is lost. Yolonda, seeing this, comes up with a plan.
The next day of the festival, Yolonda makes sure Andrew brings his harmonica. She wanders around the festival with Andrew, and convinces the workers and police that she and Andrew are lost. She manages to get backstage, and Andrew starts playing the harmonica, Yolonda tells a man backstage that she is looking for someone to listen to her genius brother – perhaps Koko Taylor or B.B. King, both of whom are scheduled to play at the festival. Suddenly, behind them, Yolonda recognizes B.B. King, who sees Andrew clutching his harmonica, and asks to hear him play. Once he does, they bring Andrew out on stage, to play to the crowd. Everyone finally hears Andrew do what Yolonda always knew he could.