Minna’s Patchwork Coat

Minna's Patchwork Coat51a3s9oMphL__SX340_BO1,204,203,200_Minna’s Patchwork Coat

Lauren A. Mills, Author and Illustrator

Little Brown and Company, Fiction, Nov. 3, 2015

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Pages: 288

Themes: Children of coal miners, Appalachian Region, Coats, Quilting, Family life, School, Community, Prejudice

Book Jacket Synopsis: Minna and her family don’t have much in their small Appalachian cabin, but “people only need people,” Papa always says. Unable to afford a warm winter coat, Minna is forced to give up her dream of going to school — until her neighbors work tirelessly to create a quilted coat out of old fabric scraps. But even that might not be enough to cut through the long-held prejudices of Minna’s new classmates. Can she make them see beyond the rags to the girl with a special story inside?

Why I like this book:

Author and artist Lauren A. Mills lovingly reimagines her 1991  picture book, The Rag Coat, into a middle grade historical novel with 50 delicate and expressive black and white illustrations and an expanded story about a remarkable girl, a patchwork coat and how the two stitch the community together through scraps of stories that touch all of their lives.

The story is set in the Appalachian Region in West Virginia during in 1908. Most of the men work as coal miners deep beneath the earth. Many become sick with black lung disease. Poverty and loss are real. Prejudice for minorities is real and children of color aren’t permitted to attend school. Yet, families help each other when times are tough. They barely have enough money to feed and clothe their families, but they are rich in love, storytelling, music and dance. And the beauty of nature is the canopy they all share,

The characters are colorful and memorable. Minna is a resilient and feisty girl. Even though Minna is disappointed she can’t go to school, she spends her days helping her mama and watching her brother, Clemmie.  She also learns about the curative power of plants from “Aunt” Nora, a wise Cherokee healer. And Minna teaches Nora’s mixed-race grandson, Lester, to read and write. Mama keeps the family’s songs and stories alive. Papa is unable to work because of black lung disease. He’s a fiddler and teaches Lester how to play.

Minna’s Patchwork Coat is a richly textured story with many layers and a charming narrative. The plot is engaging. Sadly Minna’s father passes, but his spirit and memories help ease her grief. In order to earn money for the family, her mama joins the Quilting Mothers to stitch beautiful quilts to sell in the larger cities. When the mothers work on a colorful pattern called Joseph’s Coat of Many Colors, Minna longs for such a beautiful coat so she can go to school. The mothers work tirelessly to create a quilted coat out of old fabric scraps. Minna picks the scraps which carry a story about many of the students at school who tease her. Hearing their mothers share their stories helps Minna get to know each one better, including the bullies. The coat is finally finished and she proudly wears it to school on “sharing day.” She is teased by the other children about her coat of rags, until they realize that those rags carry bits of their own history. A beautiful tale that teaches children about the bond of community and their connection to each other.

Check other Middle Grade review links on Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

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About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

32 thoughts on “Minna’s Patchwork Coat

  1. Sounds like an engaging middle grade book with many messages. Some children are not aware that others do not have the things they take for granted. “People only need people -, what a wonderful philosophy.

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    • I love that message from Minna’s father because she carries it with her through some very tough times. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I’ve always been interested in the people who live in the Appalachian Region, where it still is a hard life.

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    • Yes, I liked the time period and setting a lot. What I didn’t mention was that at the back of the book, the author shares where many of the lyrics to the songs sung in the story come from Irish and European immigrants and are very old. Such a great story!

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  2. Pat, This sounds like a wonderfully heartwarming story. I’ll add it to my list for my son. He had a very hard time reading Crenshaw, but I still think it’s important for him to read books about kids who do not have as much as he does. Thanks for reviewing this book.

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  3. I have shared The Rag Coat with my students in elementary every year. I introduce it by bringing in quilts my mother made to show them what a quilt is. Also, each patch of our quilts have a story as well. I’m glad to see the updated version because it’s a wonderful story well worth sharing at any age level.

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  4. My husband’s father’s family is from a coal mining area, so I’m fascinated by the culture, especially that of back in the old days. As well, it’s a brilliant idea to re-imagine one’s own picture book into a middle grade novel…there is so much more one can explore with a longer work. I’m also fascinated with quilting as a useful tool and an art form. This sounds like a perfect book for me! Thanks, Pat!

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  5. I recognize the original story, what a great idea to turn this into a middle grade narrative. I have a fascination for the Appalachian region and would love this caring story. I bet the illustrations are gorgeous.

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    • I am delighted she did so because her narrative is so rich. Yes, I have always been fascinated with the Appalachian states. So much natural and artistic beauty and yet so much poverty. I hope you read her MG.

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    • The picture book has lovely colorful illustrations and merits reading to a younger audience. But, the author was able to write a richer text for MG readers, give the book a little more depth and include a black and ink drawings throughout.

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