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Book Reviews, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Middle Grade Readers, Read-Aloud Suggestions

THE UNFORGOTTEN COAT by Frank Cottrell Boyce

By Frank Cottrell BoyceThe Unforgotten Coat centers around Julie, a young girl in her final year of elementary school in the small town of Bootle in England.  Her primary concerns are:  (1)going to her friend Mimi’s house where they are allowed to experiment with make-up; and (2) finding a way to get Shocky–a boy in her class–to notice her, despite the fact that “Shocky had completed an unbroken run of two hundred thirty-seven days of failing to notice” her existence.

Then one day two young boys in huge fur coats appear in her classroom.  The oldest gives his name as Chingis, briefly introduces the other boy as his brother, and says they have come from Mongolia.  when Julie befriends them they dub her their “Good Guide.”

Julie takes in the responsibilities of frined, protector and teacher in an unfamiliar country for Chingis.  Chingis, in turn, tells stories of Mongolia and shows Julie Polaroid pictures of its landscape, even as he takes pictures of Julie, the other children and locations in Bootle.

Their brief adventure together comes to an abrupt end when Chingis and his family are suddenly gone.  Julie notices that Chingis’ coat has been left behind in the coat room.  That coat stands in her mind as a reminder of her friend and her hope that he is safe and happy.

Many years later when they are preparing to demolish the school building, Julie returns for a last visit.  She discovers the coat in the Lost Property Box with the Polaroid pictures in its pockets.  She begins to think again of Chingis and wonders if she could find him now.

The Unforgotten Coat is a wonderfully sweet and often funny story of how we enrich each other simply by virtue of our lives, our histories–our stories–when we share them with each other.  It’s a nice independent read for an upper elementary school reader.  It could really shine as a read-aloud at home or in a classroom as a springboard for discussions about differences, acceptance, tolerance, etc.  It is a deftly plotted, enjoyable read by a talented author.

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