cover image The Memory Coat

The Memory Coat

Elvira Woodruff. Scholastic Press, $17.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-590-67717-2

An immigrant boy's tattered woolen coat helps secure his entrance to America in this thoughtful picture book. Grisha, whose parents have died, now lives with his cousin Rachel's boisterous family in a Russian shtetl. Grisha misses his parents terribly, though he finds comfort in playing storytelling games with Rachel (""they were the best of friends"") and in wearing the now-ragged coat sewn by his mother. But after cossacks terrorize the Jews of the shtetl, Rachel's family flees to America. At Ellis Island an inspector notes a scratch on Grisha's eye and marks his coat, indicating that he is rejected. Luckily, quick-thinking Rachel turns Grisha's coat inside out, allowing him to pass with the rest of the family. Woodruff (The Orphan of Ellis Island) steeps her tale in history, and at times the abundance of scene-setting detail bogs down the story's pacing. Dooling's (Mary McLean and the St. Patrick's Day Parade) evocative oil paintings range from low-contrast two-color portraits to full-color scenes; many exude great warmth. A black-and-white spread depicting a huddled band of people, with anxious, strained faces, is particularly memorable. Endnotes supply facts about the plight of Russian Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the mechanics of immigration and the role of Ellis Island. Ages 7-10. (Mar.)