Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Memory Coat

The Memory Coat

Elvira Woodruff
Illustrator:  Michael Dooling 
Picture Book
For ages 6 to 9
Scholastic, 1999   ISBN: 0590677179

Long ago, a girl called Rachel lived with her family in a village in Russia. The family was large, noisy, and poor, but they were mostly happy. Rachel’s cousin Grisha lived with Rachel’s family, and together Rachel and Grisha would tell wonderful stories using words and pictures.

Then one day, Rachel and Grisha’s life was turned upside down. The Cossacks attacked their village, determined to kill every Jew they could find. The children’s grandfather decided that Russia was no longer safe for them, so the family sold what they could, packed a few necessities, and began the journey that would take them to America.

Though they knew that the long trip would be hard, what Rachel’s family worried about the most was that they might be turned away at Ellis Island. Imagine if they got all the way to America only to be told that they could not enter the country. “We must make a good impression” Rachel’s grandfather said.

Many of the people in the family are worried that Grisha’s tattered coat would make a very bad impression, but the boy refused to wear a different coat. Though his coat was ragged, it was precious to him because his mother had made it for him just before she had died. Everyone hoped that Grisha’s coat would not be his undoing when he got to Ellis Island.

The author of this memorable and very touching story was inspired to create her tale after she visited Ellis Island. On the island, she saw an exhibit of clothes that had belonged to immigrants who came through the island. One of the items she saw was a “child’s woolen jacket, patched at the elbows and frayed at the collar.” Her imagination cooked up a little boy’s story to go with the little woolen coat.