The coat by Julie Hunt
Ill. by Ron Brooks. Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 978 1 74114 605 9.
(Ages: 6+) Warmly recommended. Picture book. Fable. The fable of a scarecrow giving up his coat to a man wandering along the highway, is told in imaginative tightly constructed prose by Julie Hunt. Against a sepia background, the vagrant, a lonely and dejected man, comes to life when the coat takes him upwards, over the trees and houses, the villages and towns until he gets to a city. Here he finds his voice, and taking a piano accordion from the wall, begins to play and sing to the assembled people at the inn. His music fills the room, moving the patrons to sing and dance, turning them into acrobats, twisting and diving in the air above them, as colour returns to his life.
When he comes to leave he does so with thunderous applause, unable to give a response to the question of when he will return.
But the joy given to the people will live on, just as the man and his new coat bring music and joy to other such communities along their path. The coat, which felt it was a waste stuffed with straw in the field of strawberries, has a new life, as does the disappointed young man who puts it on.
There is a lot to like in this story as the coat takes on a life of its own in trying to avoid being disregarded, while the man can see how important the coat was once, gracing the shoulders of someone with distinction. The man fills the coat, changing from a small, insignificant man to one whose qualities shine for all to see. On many levels it is a story of fulfilling one's potential, of taking risks, of making the most of a moment, of taking opportunities as they present themselves. Adages crowd in to be discussed and pondered, 'Clothes maketh the man', 'Seize the day', 'Opportunity knocks but once', to name a few.
And the illustrations, by Ron Brooks, are just marvellous. I had art books all over the floor as I tried to match some of the styles he uses to an artist or period of art history. All students will love finding similar books in their library to compare with the sweeping, intricate, sepia and colourful illustrations presented by Brooks, with Chagall and Brueghel coming immediately to mind.
I can imagine hours of discussions proceeding from this book, once the beautiful linked script has been deciphered by the students.