The Unforgotten Coat

Authored by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Illustrated by Carl Hunter and Clare Heney
Published by Walker

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Over the next few months, we are adding reviews to our website of books that we have selected for our programmes and resources, as well as the best new books. So you will find some reviews of older titles interspersed with more recent ones.

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.

This title previously featured in our Year 4 Reading Gladiators collection and now has a full teaching sequence in our Take One Book resource. We have included it in our year 5 sequences because the themes work well for this year group. To find out more about Take One Book visit takeonebook.org

You can visit In the Reading Corner and listen to our podcast with Frank Cottrell Boyce