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The Memory Coat: An Ellis Island Story

The Memory Coat: An Ellis Island Story

by Elvira Woodruff, Michael Dooling (Illustrator)
At the inspection station at Ellis Island, Russian emigre Rachel aids her cousin when an inspector singles him out for wearing an old tattered coat that could jeopardize his entrance into the new homeland. Full color.


At the inspection station at Ellis Island, Russian emigre Rachel aids her cousin when an inspector singles him out for wearing an old tattered coat that could jeopardize his entrance into the new homeland. Full color.

Editorial Reviews

Hungry Mind Review
...[T]he book...encourages children to understand and appreciate the powerful landscapes of memory and imagination.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
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.)
Children's Literature - Carol Lynch
Leaving behind the comforts of home isn't easy in the best of circumstances, but for Rachel and Grisha the risks are compounded. Their Russian town is being overrun by the Cossacks, who will kill all the Jewish residents. At the same time that the family is enduring a frightening journey to America, Grisha is going through his own turmoil as he is confronted with cutting the remaining ties he had to his deceased mother. The two story lines seem to compete for the reader's attention, each deserving its own book. Woodruff has attempted to create a picture of the emotional hardships that war causes, but may have tried to include too much for this picture book format. Students will need some background information on Russian history and culture, immigration and Ellis Island to understand the story. Oil on canvas illustrations capture the sadness of the characters and the bleak surroundings. Grisha's story has a happy ending, but the reader is left wondering what lies ahead for the immigrant family. Author's notes explain how the story was inspired.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-A moving story of a family emigrating to the United States from Russia at the turn of the century. To while away the days in their small village, or shtetl, Rachel makes up stories and her orphaned cousin draws pictures in the dirt or snow to illustrate them. Although Rachel's mother offers to make Grisha a new coat, the boy clings to his threadbare jacket because it reminds him of his mother. When Russian soldiers come to round up the Jews, the family is forced to flee and makes the long, arduous journey to America. Grisha is nearly turned away by immigration authorities at Ellis Island because of a cut on his eye. Rachel saves the situation when she turns his shabby coat inside out to hide the doctor's chalk mark. Realistic yet impressionistic oil paintings in subdued tones evoke scenes from village and farm life in the old country, while sepia-toned illustrations depict the hardships of the voyage and the grimness of the customs inspection. A touching story of immigration and the resiliency of those who underwent the transition, told with the fondness of a cherished memory.-Sally R. Dow, Ossining Public Library, NY
Kirkus Reviews
Through the experiences of two children, Rachel and her orphaned cousin Grisha, readers learn why Russian-Jewish families fled to America for refuge at the turn of the century, the arduous 14-day journey they faced on the ocean, and the critical physical inspections that occurred at Ellis Island that could determine their futures. For Rachel's family, their moment of peril comes when Grisha, whose eye has been scratched, is marked for deportation with chalk on the back of the ragged jacket that was sewn by his mother. Rachel quickly thinks to turn his jacket inside out and he is examined again, by a kinder doctor, and is allowed to stay with the family. Dooling's dramatic oil paintings reflect the fears and hopes of not only Rachel's family, but of all immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island hoping for freedom from religious persecution and for more prosperous futures. Woodruff (The Orphan of Ellis Island, 1997, etc.) includes information about on her inspiration for this book, the atrocities of life in Russia, and the history of Ellis Island since its opening in 1892. (Picture book. 7-10) .

Product Details

Scholastic, Inc.
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
10.15(w) x 11.36(h) x 0.35(d)
AD650L (what's this?)
Age Range:
4 - 8 Years

Meet the Author

The bestselling author of GEORGE WASHINGTON'S SOCKS and THE RAVENMASTER'S SECRET, Woodruff has written more than twenty books for children, including picture books, historical fiction, and lighthearted fantasy. Her numerous school visits each year are popular with kids and teachers. The sequel to GEORGE WASHINGTON'S SOCKS, GEORGE WASHINGTON'S SPY, will be published in November 2010. She lives with her family in Martin's Creek, Pennsylvania.

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