Phil is on a mission. His absentminded little brother forgot his lunch money. All kinds of thoughts are running through Phil's mind as he searches for Jimmy in the throngs of fourth and fifth graders crowding the school hallway:...if I'm late for math today, then I might not be allowed to take the test -- and then I could flunk math! I might even flunk sixth grade and get left back!
Then Phil spots Jimmy's one-of-a-kind jacket and rushes to the corner of the hallway. Except the person wearing it isn't his brother; it's some black kid Phil's never seen before -- wearing Jimmy's jacket! Phil makes an accusation, tempers flare, and both kids wind up in the principal's office.
How will Phil react when he finds out how Daniel came to be the owner of this unique jacket? Will Daniel be able to forgive Phil for an accusation that was based on racial prejudice? What will each boy learn about the other, and most important, about himself?
Originally serialized in the Boston Globe, Clements's (Frindle; The School Story) brief, instructive tale centers on a sixth-grader who one day realizes that he is prejudiced. When Phil spies Daniel, an African-American schoolmate, wearing a jacket identical to one that his mother bought him in Italy (and that Phil had passed down to his younger brother), he assumes that Daniel has stolen the coat. After tussling in the hall, the two sort things out in the principal's office, where Daniel reveals that his jacket was a gift from his grandmother, Lucy; as it turns out, the woman who for years has cleaned Phil's house is Daniel's grandmother. Learning that the jacket now legitimately belongs to Daniel, Phil questions his actions ("What if Daniel had been a white kid? Would I have grabbed him like that?"). The lad's quandary deepens when he suddenly recognizes that his father is, quite blatantly, a bigot. Though lacking subtlety, the story pointedly delivers a timely message and can serve as a springboard for dialogue about tolerance and self-honesty. Clements makes his point without didacticism and with just the right amount of emotion. Ages 8-12.