Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Unforgotten Coat Review

Book talk: In a few short months, Julie will graduate and all her friends will scatter to new schools.  But their elementary school has one last surprise waiting for them before they go.  When Chingis and Nergui show up to class in their thick fur coats with the sun beating down outside, everyone is intrigued.  Then, the teacher asks Nergui to remove his hat and Chingis responds that his brother is like an eagle calmed by a hood, and removing his hat would have disastrous results.  These new kids are clearly not their average classmates and everyone wants to get to know them.  Julie is the one they pick as their guide though, and she takes her responsibilities seriously.  But something is wrong with the brothers.  Chingis claims that a demon is chasing his brother--how could that possibly be true?  Julie's seen plenty of strange things since the brothers showed up in her life though, and something clearly has them spooked.  Perhaps there really is a demon chasing them after all.

Rocks my socks: It's refreshing to see such a humorous and engrossing book dealing with such a serious topic.  Not only does it highlight issues around adapting to a new culture, it eventually becomes clear that Chingis and Nergui are illegal immigrants.  The book is so funny and quick though that the reader is already engaged with the characters by the time this is revealed and so it will appeal to plenty of kids who would otherwise shy away from issues fiction.  I'm reading this to my other third grade class right now and they are enjoying it--especially the Polaroid pictures throughout (although I did have to explain what those were.)  They're also learning a little about Mongolian culture along the way which I am at least finding fascinating and isn't commonly explored in juvenile fiction (or western fiction in general.)  The book was apparently inspired by a student in the first class Boyce made an author visit to and it has a very authentic feel.  The narrator is looking back on the incident as an adult, which allows Boyce to tell a story that has impact without leaving the readers on an uncertain and dark note.

Rocks in my socks: It took me a while to figure out that Chingis is another spelling of Genghis so Chingis is named after Genghis Khan.  I wish there had been some sort of note about it.  A pronunciation guide for the Mongolian words would have also been much appreciated and perhaps a glossary as well.  Nothing makes me happier than good back matter!

Every book its reader: While I think it's fine for reading aloud to 3rd and 4th grade I'm not sure I'd give it to a student of that age to read on their own so that there's someone they can talk to when the immigration issues come up.  The Mongolian words clearly will be new vocabulary for most students, but other than that the word are pretty easy.  The book is short with pictures throughout but it is high interest and features students at the end of year six so it'd be a good book to give to 5th and 6th graders who are not strong readers.

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Buy it or check it out today!

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