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The Unforgotten Coat

The Unforgotten Coat

Published: 4 Oct 2012

Paperback / softback, 112 pages

Recommended for age 9+

By Frank Cottrell Boyce

Published by Walker Books Ltd

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Winner of the 2012 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, this is a stunning and magical story of a summer of friendship that also explore the plight of refugees. From the award-winning author of Millions comes a story of friendship in the midst of adversity. Winner of the 2012 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, this magical and poignant book is enriched by stunning and atmospheric Polaroid photos.

Two refugee brothers from Mongolia are determined to fit in with their Liverpool schoolmates, but bring so much of Mongolia to Bootle that their new friend and guide, Julie, is hard-pressed to know the truth from fantasy. Told with the humour, warmth and brilliance of detail which characterizes Frank Cottrell Boyce's writing, readers will be transported from the streets of Liverpool to the steppe of Mongolia

Tagged belonging , refugee experience and top pick

Reviewed by Caroline Bradley

Set in Bootle, north of Liverpool, this is the story of two refugee brothers from Mongolia who are determined to fit in with their schoolmates while they apply for UK citizenship. The story is told from the perspective of classmate Julie O’Connor, their ‘good guide’. The book is written retrospectively, it has an unusual notebook format and includes ‘polaroid’ photographs to tell the story. In fact, an interesting discussion could be had around the adage ‘the camera never lies’!

The photographic illustrations lend themselves to a comparison of the UK with an Asian country, particularly in light of the plot twist revealed at the end of the story. 

The story is very relatable for Year 6 pupils as the action takes place in the Summer term of the final year of primary school, but when the new characters start to tell their story, it becomes clear that sometimes it is what can be learned outside the classroom that is most important.

It is a refreshingly light and in places humorous story about the weighty topic of refugees and asylum so would also be ideal for younger pupils in Key stage 2, and the notebook style interspersed with the intriguing photographs should engage the less enthusiastic reader. 

This book is also about truth, and the reader cannot help ponder on the enormous weight that must be on the shoulders of Chingis when he is repeatedly creative with the truth as he relays his circumstances and feelings. This provides plenty of opportunity for drama activities such as role-play and hot seating to unpick his comments.

It would make the ideal comparison with Onjali Q Rauf’s The Boy at the Back of the Class which is also told from the viewpoint of a classmate as opposed to the refugee themselves, offering obvious opportunities for empathy development.

I particularly like the rawness and authenticity of the narrative that is inspired by a true story and told by a Liverpudlian who knows how to portray the experiences of children. It has won several book awards and has had international success – rightly deserved after its humble beginnings as a commissioned title for the Our Read initiative in which, thanks to Frank’s generosity, 50,000 copies were distributed gratis.

Formerly a teacher and Library Advisor, with experience in public, school and university libraries, Caroline is librarian at Elm Green Preparatory School in Essex. Prior to this role she worked for Just Imagine for 10 years working on a variety of projects, including creating content for Reading Gladiators:The Ultimate Book Club and the online bookshop bestbooksforschools.com

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