A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the anti-bullying book The Revealers and lamented that in the 12 years since the book’s original publication, school bullying has remained an issue. The same can certainly be said for The Jacket, Andrew Clement’s short novel about racial prejudice.
Phil Morelli, a white 6th grader confronts a younger African-American student wearing a unique jacket that looks remarkably similar to one owned by his Phil’s little brother. Phil’s accusations, and his realization that he’s made an insensitive mistake, lead him to question his own views about race. Would he have jumped to the conclusion that the jacket was stolen if the younger boy was white?
Well-known author Andrew Clements tackles this sensitive, timely topic with grace and tact. By keeping the story “small” – limiting it to a couple of days in the life of a handful of characters – Clements allows the reader to manage the big questions about racism. Phil actively challenges his assumptions and asks himself questions he’s never considered. The reader can follow along and silently ask the same questions. The Jacket provides an opportunity for discussion on every page.
Readers looking for a book in the vein of Clement’s other popular books, including Frindle, Landry News, or Lunch Money will be disappointed. The Jacket is more of a discussion guide wrapped in a short story. At 90 pages (with about 20 full-page illustrations) the book may attract reluctant readers looking to fulfill a quick reading obligation – but that too will probably lead to disappointment. The Jacket would be extremely useful to teachers and counselors exploring race relations with middle school students. But beyond that, it’s place in a library collection is limited.
Buy a copy of The Jacket for your library, and be prepared to field a variety of responses. Make teachers and your school guidance counselor aware of this discussion-starting resource.