‘The magic of story’: The Unforgotten Coat in Germany

The Unforgotten Coat has been on quite a journey since its publication in 2011 for The Reader’s Our Read campaign. It’s been shared in schools and universities, at festivals and events and has garnered several award wins and nominations. We’ve been amazed at how the story – inspired by true events – has become a global sensation, but not all that surprised given that it was penned by the brilliant Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Recently, Frank embarked on a trip which highlighted not only the appeal of the book but also its relevance to current events that are happening across the world. He writes for us:

Frank Cottrell Boyce making the children's keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival
Frank Cottrell Boyce making the children’s keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival

A few months ago I won a prestigious book award in Germany – the James Kruss prize. This involved me in the difficult work of being wined and dined and feted in one of the world’s most beautiful libraries – the International Children’s Library in Schloss Blutenburg near Munich. I wrote about the experience here. It also involved me giving the children’s keynote lecture at the Berlin International Literature Festival last week.

I find it surprising and thought-provoking that all this prestige comes from the book I wrote for The Reader in response to the badgering of Jane Davis – The Unforgotten Coat. This is a book I wrote quickly, inspired by a Mongolian girl I met in a school in Bootle. It’s illustrated with photographs taken by friends Carl Hunter and Clare Heaney. It could not be more home-made. Yet it seems really to have hit a chord in Germany.

The events were all packed. I was taken to schools and to a refugee project where the kids were doing work inspired by the book. A party of Mongolian children turned up, delighted by the fact that the book’s heroes are from Mongolia. It’s always been well-regarded in Germany (it won the state-sponsored Jugendliteraturpreis last year) but the events of the summer, and the refugee crisis in particular, have made it seem relevant and timely. I was even invited onto the news to discuss the crisis, which turned out to be slightly embarrassing as I only remembered that I don’t really speak German when I was on already on air.

There’s something to be said here about the magic – or the grace – of story. When the book was written there was no refugee crisis. I wrote it purely because its two swaggering, resourceful, vulnerable heroes seemed fun and real. When politicians are referring to refugees as “swarms” and “floods” as though they were the plagues of Egypt, it’s important to be reminded that we are talking about individuals – as needy, as worthy, as eccentric as we are ourselves.   Narrative is a great mental and moral discipline.

Frank Cottrell BoyceIt also says something about the inherent internationalism of children’s stories. When I was growing up I was immersed in stories that came from Finland, Africa, the Middle East – but they all seemed to belong to me, part of my inheritance every bit as much as Scouse or the Beatles. By the way, The International Children’s Library was founded by Jella Lepman – a Jewish refugee who got out of Germany just in time and then, when the war was over, went back to help rebuild it. Imagine that. She got away. She got a nice job at the BBC. Then she went back. The more I think about it, the more I think that’s one of the most moving and salutary things I’ve ever heard. She went back because she thought that children’s stories were important. I put her picture over my desk and say a prayer each morning that I don’t sell her vision short.

I went home via Hamburg where I took my little son to see “Miniatur Wunderland” – a terrific display of model towns and villages. One room contains a series of scenes of one street through time. From the Bronze Age, through the Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, the Nazis (“in the far corner we can see Rosa Luxembourg being murdered …”), the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Wall and then… it doesn’t stop. The next few cases show visions of what the same street might be in the future. Each of those cases has been put together by one of the main political parties. They were each asked to show what their vision of the future would look like at street level. It was revelatory and oddly moving to see that politicians dream too.

This is a picture of the Miniatur Wunderland version of the collapse of the Wall.

Miniatur Wunderland picture (Frank CB blog)


The Unforgotten Coat received its international premiere at the Berlin International Literature Festival on 9th September at the Children and Young Adult Literature section of the festival, with a special focus on ‘Escape, displacement and migration’.

“Good stories help us make sense of the world. They invite us to discover what it’s like being someone completely different.” – Author Gillian Cross writes for The Guardian on how fiction can help us to understand the Syrian refugee crisis. The Unforgotten Coat has been offered as one recommendation (and we agree), but there are many more, suggested by readers here.

An exhibition of original digital and Polaroid-style photographs from The Unforgotten Coat by Carl Hunter and Clare Heaney is on display at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield until Saturday 26th September.

Another impressive nomination for The Unforgotten Coat!

We are very proud to announce that The Unforgotten Coat – the book written especially for The Reader Organisation by award winning author, screenwriter and patron of TRO  Frank Cottrell Boyce – has been nominated for the prestigious 2014 IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People) international Honour List.The IBBY awards are published every two years to celebrate and raise awareness of excellence in children’s books. The Unforgotten Coat is one of three books nominated for this award and the nominations are as follows:

  • For writing: Frank Cottrell Boyce, The Unforgotten Coat, Walker Books, 2011.
  • For illustration: Sarah Garland, Azzi in Between, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 2012.
  • For translation: Howard Curtis, In The Sea There Are Crocodiles, Random House/David Fickling Books, 2012 (author: Fabio Geda)

The above books are written from the perspective of young people, while exploring challenging themes experienced by characters in the books, such as displacement and hostility. The Unforgotten Coat tells a story of two Mongolian brothers as they begin a new school in Merseyside before being forced back to their home country. This moving story has impressed judges and readers all over and has recently won the category of Children’s Book at The German Children’s Literature Awards.

We are so grateful to Frank for creating  The Unforgotten Coat, a fabulous treasure of a book, and we’re really excited at the prospect of it reaching more and more individuals following this nomination! Well done Frank!



The Unforgotten Coat wins again!

German children's literature prize

Congratulations to award-winning author, patron and great friend of The Reader Organisation, Frank Cottrell Boyce, for winning the award for The Unforgotten Coat in the category of Children’s Book at this year’s German Children’s Literature Awards.

German unforgotten coatWe are very proud of Frank and The Unforgotten Coat as it was penned especially for The Reader Organisation and Our Read 2011. 50,000 free copies of the book were distributed across Merseyside, travelling around the UK and the rest of the world and enchanting readers of all ages with its humorous and touching tale of two brothers from Mongolia who have settled in Merseyside and made friends with a girl called Julie, only to be forced back to their home country. It has gone on to captivate judges on many award panels, winning Frank the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2012.

The German Children’s Literature Award is Germany’s only state-sponsored prize for works of fiction and has been awarded annually since 1956 by a jury of literature specialists and critics in four categories: picture book, children’s book, young adult book and non-fiction. In addition, since 2003 an independent young adult jury gives its own award. It is fantastic that Frank’s book

“written for fun, and for friendship’

has gone on to touch and inspire people around the world and be recognised for the wonderfully heart-warming work that it is.

Congratulations Frank and a huge thank you, once again, for the wonderful gift of The Unforgotten Coat.

The Award-Winning Unforgotten Coat!

A huge congratulations go to The Reader Organisation’s patron, Professor of Reading at Liverpool Hope University and author extraordinaire Frank Cottrell Boyce who has won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for The Unforgotten Coat.

Frank scooped the prize last night for the story, written exclusively for The Reader Organisation and Our Read 2011. 50,000 free copies of the book were distributed across Merseyside, travelling around the UK and the rest of the world and enchanting readers of all ages with its humorous and touching tale of two brothers from Mongolia who have settled in Merseyside and made friends with a girl called Julie, only to be forced back to their home country. The judges of the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize were similarly captivated by The Unforgotten Coat, remarking that it contained ”a very profound message dressed up in a magical, original, humorous story”.

On collecting the prize, Frank dedicated The Unforgotten Coat to the Mongolian schoolgirl who inspired the story, who was taken from her home with her family in a midnight raid by immigration authorities. Frank met her while doing a reading at a school, and heard of how worried her classmates were about her and, particularly, the fact she had left her coat behind. It was an image that stayed with Frank and set him to writing the book. He also expressed his delight at winning the prize:

It’s fantastic to win it anyway, but to win with something so exuberant, that was not trying to win any awards, is really great. This is a book that was written for fun, and for friendship.

We couldn’t be prouder of Frank and The Unforgotten Coat – a wonderful gift to The Reader Organisation and our readers across the world. Since the success of Our Read in 2011, the story has been enjoyed by so many of our readers in a variety of settings, and most recently Frank delighted students in the Faculty of Education at Hope University who are taking part in our Hope Readers project by reading from the story at his recent talk alongside Danny Boyle.

For more about the wonderful accolade, see our website.

Introducing Professor Frank Cottrell Boyce…and more Unforgotten Coat success

Here at The Reader Organisation we’re reading a range of very interesting things on a daily basis, but we were especially thrilled to read this great piece in the Education Guardian all about TRO patron, supporter and great friend Frank Cottrell Boyce becoming Professor of Reading and Communication – the first professorship of its kind in the country – at Liverpool Hope University.  

Frank’s appointment to the professorial position came about thanks to his involvement with our Hope Readers project, specifically through a series of Faculty of Education Level C keynote lectures on the subject of ‘Why Books Matter’ that he delivered during the past academic year. In the prestigious role, Frank hopes to pass on the key message of reading for pleasure to trainee teachers, who he will be helping to coach, in order to reinvent the role of reading in schools from a purely educational purpose to one that also includes reading for sheer enjoyment. He explains:

“That was why I wanted to get to Hope and spread the word and get teachers reading again. Sometimes people don’t know what to read; it’s a question of sharing what’s good.”

The article also highlights Frank’s journey as an author and storyteller, bringing up some incredibly intriguing anecdotes and his most frequently asked questions – as well as ones that are slightly more unpredictable – from the talks he has given to school children with The Reader Organisation.

And there’s even more reason for Frank and The Reader Organisation to celebrate as we’ve also received the news that The Unforgotten Coat – the story that Frank wrote exclusively for Our Read 2011 – has made the longlist for the Guardian children’s fiction prize 2012. The prize is to be awarded in November, so we’re all keeping our fingers crossed…The Guardian is on the lookout for children and young people to submit 200 word reviews of the eight longlisted books, including The Unforgotten Coat, so if you know a young person who loved the story, make sure you direct them to the site. There’s also a brilliant review of the book by Lottie Longshanks on the Guardian website.

Frank also appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning, talking about the importance of reading for pleasure and a little bit about his new professorship.

Reader Fever: Celebrations

Looking for a reason to celebrate now Christmas is long over and there’s still ages to wait until the Easter bunny delivers the chocolatey goods? Luckily, the new issue of Reader Fever, The Reader Organisation’s Young Person’s Newsletter, is out now and is all about celebrations.

Get the low-down on St Patrick’s Day and get the giggles at our very own Patrick Fisher’s party jokes, enjoy a Recommended Read from one of our young readers and find out fun facts about National Peanut Day (yes, it is a real day!).

There’s loads to enjoy so scroll down, click ‘full screen’ and get reading!

The Unforgotten Coat shortlisted in Costa Book Awards

Absolutely fantastic news – The Unforgotten Coat, the book written exclusively for The Reader Organisation for Our Read 2011 by the brilliant Frank Cottrell Boyce, has been included in the shortlist for the Costa Book Awards 2011!

Running since 1971 (when they were known as the Whitbread Literary Awards), the Costa Book Awards are one of the biggest and most prestigious literary prizes in the UK, recognising a range of the most widely enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland. The awards are also unique for being the only literary prize which places an equal emphasis on children’s books alongside adult literature.

The Unforgotten Coat has been nominated in the Children’s Book category. The accolade tops off what has been an amazing year for Our Read, with 50,000 copies of the book captivating hundreds of thousands of children (and adults) across the UK – and beyond (we’ve received postcards from Our Read readers as far afield as Spain, Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria and Hong Kong). The Our Read launch day took a special reading train from Liverpool to London and back (with Frank himself on board) and since then, there’s been tons of other events centered around The Unforgotten Coat. We’d like to offer our congratulations to Frank for this honour and thank him for ‘giving’ the book to Our Read – we couldn’t have done it without him.

The category winners will be announced on 4th January 2012. For more information on the awards, visit the Costa Book Awards website.

Frank Cottrell Boyce at the Southbank Centre

Frank Cottrell Boyce will bring his story of a Bootle schoolgirl and her friendship with two Mongolian brothers to the heart of London this month when he appears at the Southbank Centre to talk about The Unforgotten Coat, which he kindly wrote for The Reader Organisation for this year’s Our Read campaign.

Frank will read excerpts from the book and talk about his inspiration for writing it and his love of storytelling, as well as answering questions from the audience – so if you want to know more about this brilliant book then why not go down and ask the man himself!

The event takes place at 6.30pm on Tuesday 29 November in London’s Southbank Centre, and is suitable for ages ten and over. Tickets cost £8 – you can find more information here.

A New Chapter – Liverpool Hope University and The Reader Organisation

On 3rd October The Reader Organisation started what is sure to be a thrilling and innovative relationship with Liverpool Hope University.

Charlotte Weber and I are now Readers-in-Residence, working closely with the Faculty of Education in creating a vibrant atmosphere revolving around reading across campus. Over the year we will be delivering weekly reading groups to first year students from the Faculty, sparking a level of enthusiasm towards the value of reading that will stay with them throughout their careers in education and their lives as a whole.

The project may still be in its embryonic stages but we are already brimming with ideas about how we can promote shared reading.

In partnership with the Faculty of Education we are setting up a Read Aloud Society as part of students’ course enrichment, we have already held a reading group in the Sheppard-Worlock Library, arranged for the library to stock The Reader Organisation’s publications, presented our vision to over 500 students across two lectures (of course, we finished with a poem!) and we are making plans for a significant part of Our Read 2012 to be based at Hope, with students playing a vital role in the delivery of one of The Reader Organisation’s biggest and most exciting projects.

The campus is a brilliant place to be, there are so many people here we can inspire to become social and active readers who go on to deliver a Reading Revolution to even more people. There is the added bonus of both Charlotte and I being fans of Paradise Lost working in the EDEN Building… which has a garden… with a bench seating two children reading Tarzan. The words and drawings are actually engraved onto the book!

Liverpool Hope University takes a holistic approach to student development and this is something we are looking to be a major part of. Our experience of Get Into Reading proves sitting down with other people and reading a good poem, novel or short story can have an amazing impact on the individual and a community. After students and staff have experienced the wonderful effects of shared reading aloud, we hope they can make the university an even more dynamic place to study and work.

The benefits of our presence should not only be felt within Hope, we would like students to engage with schools, community centres and care homes in bringing enjoyable shared reading experiences to as many people as possible. It will be rewarding for us as an organisation if we extend students’ vocational activity surrounding the university, as we use reading as the means to a harmonious relationship between students and the local community.

This is an outstanding opportunity for Liverpool Hope University and its students to set themselves apart from others, whilst The Reader Organisation engages with hundreds of Education students who will one day go on to play a huge role in the development of thousands of youngsters. It is a privilege for us to be able to spread our message to so many people, and to ensure that the Reading Revolution continues to grow.

A Dave's eye view of the book!

The Unforgotten Coat Makes a Splash in America

Thanks to this year’s Our Read book giveaway, tens of thousands of people in the UK and beyond have read and enjoyed Frank Cottrell Boyce’s The Unforgotten Coat, and now it seems that our stateside cousins are also relishing the adventures of Chingis and Nergui.

Frank’s story about the two Mongolian brothers who arrive in Bootle and enlist a local schoolgirl as their ‘good guide’ to the area has been warmly reviewed by Betsy Bird of the Fuse #8 blog, who suggests that it might be his best novel and describes the book as:

the kind of book you get when an author gets an original idea and works it into something memorable. This is one story kids will read and then find difficult to forget.

Bird also praises the distinctive layout of the book, with its notebook-style page design and inventive use of Polaroid photographs, combined with Frank’s deft storytelling abilities:

Few authors have a way of turning you over on your head in the course of reading a children’s title. Boyce can. Can and does. This is, without a doubt, one of the best little books I’ve ever read. A brilliant melding of text and image, it’s a wonderful example of what can happen when an author goes for something entirely new.

The story has also caught the eye of Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal, who praised the book’s positive approach to foreign cultures and described it as:

a funny and affecting book for children ages 10 to 14

So if you haven’t read The Unforgotten Coat yet then we can only encourage you to do so, whatever age you are!