by Andrew Clement
Originally serialized in the Boston Globe, Clements's (Frindle; The School Story) brief, instructive tale centers on a sixth-grader who one day realizes that he is prejudiced. When Phil spies Daniel, an African-American schoolmate, wearing a jacket identical to one that his mother bought him in Italy (and that Phil had passed down to his younger brother), he assumes that Daniel has stolen the coat. After tussling in the hall, the two sort things out in the principal's office, where Daniel reveals that his jacket was a gift from his grandmother, Lucy; as it turns out, the woman who for years has cleaned Phil's house is Daniel's grandmother. Learning that the jacket now legitimately belongs to Daniel, Phil questions his actions ("What if Daniel had been a white kid? Would I have grabbed him like that?"). The lad's quandary deepens when he suddenly recognizes that his father is, quite blatantly, a bigot. Though lacking subtlety, the story pointedly delivers a timely message and can serve as a springboard for dialogue about tolerance and self-honesty. Clements makes his point without didacticism and with just the right amount of emotion. Ages 8-12.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
School Library Journal
Gr 4-7-Sixth-grader Phil sees another boy wearing his younger brother's jacket and accuses him of stealing it. After both of the students end up in the principal's office, Phil discovers that his mother gave the garment to the African-American woman who cleans their house. Lucy Taylor then gave it to her grandson, Daniel, the accused thief. Phil's anger, embarrassment, and confusion over the incident give him a new awareness of race and prejudice. This thin story is more like a character sketch than a fully realized novel. The incident forces Phil to examine himself at a level he has never before considered. He gets along fine with all the kids at school, but all of his friends are white. He has known Lucy all his life, and although he likes her, he has never thought about the details of her life or known that she has a grandson who attends his school. Events are told from Phil's point of view, so Daniel's reactions are experienced on a limited basis only. When the protagonist pays a surprise visit to Daniel's home, he discovers that the neighborhood is almost a mirror image of his own. While purposeful and a bit heavy-handed, the book may spark discussion with a class exploring racism, tolerance, and prejudice. Parents or church youth leaders may also find it useful.-Lucinda Snyder Whitehurst, St. Christopher's School, Richmond, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Booklist, March 1, 2002, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.:
Gr. 3-6. In a short, disturbing story, white sixth-grader Phil suddenly faces complex issues of race and class in his comfortable home and school. It begins with an ugly confrontation: Phil is furious when he sees a black kid, Daniel, in the school hallway wearing Phil's brother's jacket. Phil immediately assumes the jacket is stolen. Daniel is angered by the accusation and tears off the garment. It turns out that Daniel's grandmother, Lucy, who works as cleaning lady in Phil's home, was given the jacket by Phil's mother. As Phil wakes up to his own prejudice (Would he have thought the jacket was stolen if Daniel were white?), he questions the unspoken segregation all around him. Why is his neighborhood totally white? Is his father racist? Why doesn't he know Lucy's last name? Is it wrong to have a cleaning lady? Because he is truly sorry, Phil seeks out Daniel in the boy's black middle-class neighborhood and makes some surprising discoveries about what he and Daniel have in common. The plot is purposive, and readers will want more from Daniel's viewpoint, but Clements strips away the platitudes and eschews neat solutions, making this an excellent story to open honest group discussion.
¾: Hazel Rochman.: