Clements, Andrew. (2002). The Jacket. H. McDavid. New York: Scholastic, Inc.
Literary Genre: Realistic Fiction (Chapter Book)
It was a hectic Thursday morning and Phil is rushing down the school hallway looking for his brother, so he can give him his lunch money. Finally, he spots his jacket and calls for his brother but his brother doesn’t hear him. When Phil catches up to him, he realizes it is not his brother and accuses Daniel of stealing his brother’s jacket. They get into a scuffle and a teacher escorts them to the principal’s office. The principal allows each boy a chance to state his side of the story, then she calls Daniel’s mother to verify that he received the jacket as a gift. Daniel’s mother shares that a friend of Daniel’s grandmother provided the gift. When the principal shares the name of the grandmother (Lucy), Phil realizes that he made a mistake and apologizes because Lucy is his family’s cleaning lady and his mom must have given away the jacket. Daniel feels embarrassed and refuses to take the jacket back.
Phil starts to feel guilty. He starts thinking that maybe he accused Daniel of stealing because he is black. Phil starts to notice that he gets along with other African American kids in his school but he does not have any black friends. As he walks home, he starts to count the number of black people he sees in his neighborhood and he thinks that they look out of place, as if they do not belong. Phil is concerned that he is “prejudiced” without knowing it. He talks to his mother, who brushes it off but warns Phil not to bring it up to his father. Phil notices that Lucy calls everyone in his family by their first name except for his father. Lucy calls him Mr. Morelli and his father uses a “different” tone of voice when speaking to Lucy and Phil understands why, his father is “prejudiced” too. When Daniel doesn’t come to school the next day, Phil is worried that it his fault and comes up with a plan to make it right. In the end, Daniel is thankful for Phil’s effort and it seems they might even become friends. McDavid’s black and white pencil illustrations place emphasis on the book’s overall theme of racial prejudice.
At first, I was not sure if I was going to like this book or not. It is difficult to find a book that focuses on prejudice or racism without it being too preachy. Clements has an amazing ability to capture the essence of a child’s mind. Phil’s thoughts are honest and not preachy. Readers, regardless of ethnic background, would be able to relate to and connect with Phil’s thoughts and feelings. When Phil is describing the change in neighborhoods as he runs to Daniel’s house it reminded of driving down University Avenue in Des Moines. You can see the ratio of white people to black people change as you go from the east to the west, but just as Phil realizes, you will see that black people’s houses can also look like white people’s houses. I would definitely say that this book is a quality example of realistic fiction. Clements shares a story that engages readers to the point where they really care about the outcome. The plot is definitely a situation that could happen to any reader and requires problem solving. One thing that I really liked about the ending is that allows readers to know that they have control over their lives and can change things that need to be changed. Phil felt like he was unconsciously “prejudiced” so he decided to reach out to Daniel to let go of those prejudices, it would have been easier for him to stay the same, but he decided to do better.