Frank Cottrell-Boyce brings the wonders and magic of Mongolia alive on the streets of Bootle, Liverpool in this moving read. The Unforgotten Coat is a powerful and poignant story that explores illegal immigration and the strains it places on children.
Having travelled through Mongolia in 2015 I was delighted to read a children’s book with Mongolia at its heart. I can not express enough how important I feel it is that children read books that enrich their lives with experiences from other cultures.
This story is told through the eyes of Liverpudlian Julie and is written in an old exercise book when years later she recounts the remarkable events during her last term at primary school. On several pages the reader is treated to stunning polaroid images of Mongolian life. In The Unforgotten Coat Julie learns about things that no amount of schooling could ever teach her and it will prove to be her most valuable and heartbreaking lesson yet.
Julie is in her last term of primary school and has little experience of life outside of her hometown of Bootle, Liverpool. When two new boys appear one morning dressed in thick fur coats despite the warm weather no-one knows what to make of them. Nomadic tradition dictates that the boys need someone to welcome them and after the older brother appoints Julie as their “Good Guide” she learns about things far beyond the classroom. Chingis needs her to show them the ways of British life. Julie describes it as helping the boys, “learn themselves ordinary." In exchange, he offers stories of nomads, deserts, fur coats and eagles and polaroid pictures of a far off land. Julie’s interest in make-up and boys is swiftly replaced with knowledge about all things Mongolian.
The boys are as mysterious as the land that they come from. Younger brother Nergui hides beneath his hat, they never walk the same way home from school and they are convinced that a demon that chased them out of Mongolia is hunting for them in the UK. As the mystery surrounding the brothers deepens, Julie becomes more desperate to know the truth. And when she does, she is in for the surprise of her life. A surprise that will have readers rushing back through the pages to see if they can see what at first they missed.
The read is a wonderful celebration of friendship, cultural differences and how one life is enriched by another. It is as much about Mongolia as it is about Bootle. Cottrell-Boyce deals with the issue of immigration in an understated way whilst maintaining all of the warmth, charm and humour that is associated with his writing. What makes the read all the more moving and pertinent is when Cottrell-Boyce reveals at the end that The Unforgotten Coat was inspired by the true story of a young girl who was awoken in the middle of night by the immigration authorities and swiftly deported back to Mongolia.
Essential reading for 9+.