Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce tells the story of two young boy refugees. The story is narrated by Julie, now a grown-up with a child of her own. She recalls her final term in primary school when two young nomads who had arrived from the borders of Outer Mongolia and joined her class. Her memories are prompted by a series of Polaroid photographs that one of the boys had taken when Julie became their 'Good Guide'. This funny, original and moving tale takes its inspiration from a true story of a Mongolian child refugee in Bootle, who was eventually returned to her home country after a midnight raid by the immigration authorities. As you read the story, you can't help be touched and moved by the plight of the boys  and the Afterword of the book just adds to that.

We learn about and get to know Chingis and Nergui through Julie's eyes. At first Julie is curious about these new additions to her class and goes out of her way to find out as much as she can about their home country and its traditions. Children reading the story could, like Julie, carry out their own research. The story is set in real locations in the UK (Bootle and Formby) and as such, it lends itself to looking at contrasting locations for geography.

There is one particular incident in the story which is a major turning point for Julie. It's the first time she visits the temporary home of Chingis and Nergui. She is hoping to be invited in but instead is surprised by the reaction of her two new friends and their mother. Her sense of surprise is soon taken over by shock and confusion. She suddenly realises they are afraid but what of she does not know.

The photographs in the book have been taken by professional photograghers: Carl Hunter and Clare Heney. Each of the photographs show a scene that on first inspection appears to be one thing but on closer inspection turns out to be something different: illusions. They demonstrate that often we see what we expect to see rather than what is really there. For Chingis and Nergui they are images that remind them of home, maybe a way of feeling that Bootle is not so different from Mongolia. Pupils could try, as part of an art project, to create their own photographs that suggest other landscapes from familiar surroundings in the same way.

The story speaks about friendship, nostalgia and the enrichment of lives by other lives. It explores in a sensitive and non-preachy way the deeply divisive issue of imigration.

It was the winner of the 2012 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize.

Candlewick Press have produced a useful discussion guide which includes pre-reading activities, discussion questions and post-reading activities.

Publisher:Walker Books
Publication Date: 2012
ISBN: 978-1406341541

AR Book Level: 4.4
Lexile Level: 710L

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson

The Awkward Autumn of Lily McLean by Lindsay Littleson is the sequel to The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean. Following her summer of uncertainty after leaving primay school, Lily has now started secondary school. This brings with it further insecurities. She is faced with so many changes: a new school, a new man in her mum's life, a new home, the new friend she made during the summer, new routines and her sister's new friend. Pupils leaving year 6 and embarking on the next phase of the schooling will be able to identify with Lily.

There are a number of themes which permeate the book: change, resilience, understanding, forgiveness and bullying. All of these develop as Lily's character develops throughout the novel. The themes all have a contemporary feel about them and deal with real issues that children face today such as the fear of being ridiculed on YouTube.

Part way through the novel Lily is faced with a dilemma. She has to make a decision and she feels that she needs to make this decision on her own and not involve anyone else. Pupils will have faced similar situations themselves and therefore will be able to relate to Lily. The use of the drama technique 'conscience alley' would be a good strategy to explore the issues that Lily faces.

The story is told in the first person from Lily's point of view. As such the style mirrors Lily's moods. This is particularly apparent in chapter 12 where the sentence length and repetition give a real sense of fear and foreshadowing. A close reading and discussion of this chapter would provide plenty of material for that tricky content domain 'identify/explain how meaning is enhanced through choice of words and phrases'. Having discussed the literary devices it could then be used as a model for the children's own writing.

The novel is set mainly in Millport in Scotland. As this is a real place pupils will be able to research its location and its amenities which could then be used as a stimulus for non-fiction writing. Part of the book is set in Brodick on the Isle of Arran. Littleson's descriptions of the main town, like so many other descriptions throughout the novel are detailed and help to create a vivid mental image of the settings through the use of personifcation, noun phrases simile etc.. These would provide excellent models for children to use when writing their own descriptions of settings. It isn't just the descriptions of the settings though that place the novel in Scotland. On occasions the characters do speak using items of vocabulary that are a feature of the Scottish dialect.

Children who enjoy contemporary stories with social issues that they can relate to will really enjoy reading this. It would particuarly appeal to those who are in their final term of primary school, first term of secondary school. It is a story which is funny, tender, thought-provoking all at the same time and one which has an important message for everyone who reads it.

Publisher: Kelpies
Publication Date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1782503545