How does a child respond to a new classmate who is an immigrant from a very different part of the world?  Frank Cottrell Boyce tackles this topic in his engaging and thought-provoking short novel, “The Unforgotten Coat.”  Using first person narration and photographs, Cottrell Boyce draws the reader into the story of Julie – the “good guide” – and Chingis and Nergui – the new arrivals from Mongolia.

This book addresses many themes that teachers regularly want to address in a classroom:  kindness, honesty, immigration, friendship, helpfulness, open-mindedness.  It does so without the often preachy overtones that many such stories include.  Chingis is NOT a paragon;  he makes up stories, using his photographs, to create believable lies for his classmates in an effort to share a truthful sense of his feelings of separation from his past.  Julie comes to realize her limitations as well.  While she is a “good guide” in the sense that she can introduce the boys to what it is like to live in England, she fails to understand that guiding them back home after their adventure may not provide them with the security that they need.

In an afterword, the author tells an equally moving story – which is true – which inspired him to write this book.  That story, and the explanation about the Reader Organisation for which Cottrell Boyce wrote the book, would also be worthy topics for discussion in the classroom.

Cross-posted at Camp Read-A-Lot