The Unforgotten Coat

When two Mongolian brothers inexplicably appear one morning in Julie’s Year Six class, no one, least of all Julie, knows what to make of them. But then Chingis, the older of the two, proclaims that Julie is to be their “Good Guide” a nomadic tradition that makes her responsible for welcoming the brothers to their new home. Now Julie must somehow navigate them through soccer, school uniforms, and British slang, all while trying to win Shocky’ s attention and an invitation to her friend Mimi’s house.

One thought on “The Unforgotten Coat

  1. Ann Parker & Celeste Trimble says:

    The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce is a visually striking book. On the printed casebound cover is a casual photograph of a boy looking behind him, smiling. Where his coat would have been is instead the title and author written in a vivid and wrinkled lettering, simulating writing on draped fabric. The contrast between the rather ordinary idea of a coat and the shock of color and design on the cover made it impossible for me to walk away from this book.
    To my great delight, the book is illustrated with Polaroid photographs. I always have an eye out for photographically illustrated fictional children’s literature as it is quite uncommon. This is a fine example. The photographs are woven into the plot and into the general design of the book. The pages are that of a lined journal, with the look of photos that are glued in. My only problem with this design is that the font is clearly not handwritten as one would expect in a lined journal.
    I thought the use of the Polaroids was clever for several reasons. It was interesting to see the photo of Julie, the narrator, so we know just what she looks like. The photos also provided a visual idea of what Mongolia might look like, although we find out later that the photos are all taken in and around Julie’s hometown of Bootle, Liverpool. Isn’t it funny how something as familiar as our own little hometown can become an exotic location just because we want it to be? Finally, the photos get to show us the coat that has not been forgotten, even if it has been left behind.
    Julie is an engaging narrator; she learns as much from Chingis and Nergui about Mongolia and imagination as they learn from her about soccer and campfire stories. She is pleased to be named the two boys’ “Good Guide” and takes her position seriously. I wish, however, that we could have learned more about the boys’ situation, both before and after their time in Bootle. I appreciated the Afterward that Cottrell Boyce wrote that explains where he got the idea for the book; however, I felt that the children in Bootle didn’t seem to be as affected by the disappearance of their classmates as much as Cottrell Boyce and his schoolmates were.
    Peoples from Mongolia are rarely present in young adult novels. There have been two historical novels set in 13th and 14th century Mongolia published within the last twenty years (I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade by Diane Wilson, and Daughter of Xanadu by Dori Jones Yang), and no others about Mongolian immigrants as far as I could find. Because of this, because I believe young readers will not have a context for this book, I agree with you that there needs to be a bit more information about the boys’ background and situation earlier in the novel.
    I worry that Chingis and Nergui are overly flat characters. Some of the comedy seems insensitive and patronizing because there isn’t enough depth of character to balance it. For instance, the refusal to remove Nergui’s hat or Chingis’ coat gives the impression of simpleness of mind, or backwardness. Surely, however, the boys must have felt secure in their clothing and insecure when it was removed. Also, the concept of the demon following Nergui around is fascinating, especially when considered in the context of the immigration authorities. However, it is treated in such a light manner that it seems to be making fun of Mongolian folk beliefs. In addition, the notion of hunting with eagles was romanticized. This romanticization is very believable in the context of a sixth grade school room, however it weakens the authenticity and sensitivity of the novel in my mind.
    I’m not sure how else I would have handled it as a writer, however. I enjoyed the book quite a bit, with its lightness and hint of magical realism. I also found the underlying examination of the fears that refugees have to be subtle and profound, however I worry that the subtlety would be lost on young readers.
    I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I wasn’t crazy about this book, and I think Celeste clarified it for me. The two boys do seem a bit flat and a bit unbelievable from the very beginning in the way they interracted with the teacher (and Nergui was allowed to stay in his brother’s class?). If I read this as a child, I would come away very confused about what is true about Mongolian culture and what was made up.

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