CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 11 . . . . November 11, 2011
The Black Velvet Jacket.
Suzanne Reisler Litwin. Illustrated by Ross Paperman.
Montreal, PQ: BooksForLooks Publishers, 2009/2011.
32 pp., hardcover, $21.95.
Grades 3-7 / Ages 8-12.
Review by Aileen Wortley.
There once was a boy named Philip, who was small. He wasn’t terribly small. He was just smaller than all the other boys his age. Sometimes this would make him feel sad.
When his friends would choose players to be on a team, Philip was picked last. When his friends would play hide and seek, sometimes they would forget to find him. This would make him angry! He would ask his parents, ‘When am I going to grow bigger?” His Mother and Father would say, “Soon you will have a special birthday, and then you will grow bigger.”
Philip could not wait until his next birthday. He was turning 13, which happened to be his lucky number. His parents were planning a big party for his 13th birthday. He was going to need a very special outfit to wear for the occasion. Finding the right outfit was a bit of a problem. Philip wanted to look like a man, not a boy.
Twelve year old Philip is frustrated by his small stature and the associated lack of respect given him by friends. He is assured that he will start to grow taller after his significant thirteenth birthday party that is coming soon. Preoccupied with finding something unique to wear for this special event that will make him look mature, he is delighted when Grandma finds an old black velvet jacket that his Uncle had worn for his thirteenth birthday many years ago. Not only does it look good on Philip, but he is now reassured that he, too, will eventually grow as tall as Uncle Jon, who had been even smaller than Philip at the same age.
This is a first book by Suzanne Reisler Litwin and illustrator Ross Paperman, and it is based on a true story, The idea of the story is a touching one, and the photos on the cover of ‘Uncle Jon” at 13 and one of “Philip” at the same age, each wearing the jacket, symbolize the warm connection between generations of the same family.
The major concern regarding this title is the audience to which it would appeal. Were we not told that Philip is 12, we would believe him to be a very young child based on his behavior and appearance. The picture book format and simplistic text are far too young to appeal to children of Philip’s age who would be able to grasp the issue and its resolution. There is no indication that this is a book for reluctant readers, but, even if this were the case, one expects some richness of language and thoughtful character development. Alternatively, a preschooler, to whom the format, simple text, large print and colorful pictures might appeal, would fail to grasp the significance of the situation in which Philip finds himself. As it stands, the book is aimed primarily at children aged eight to twelve.
There is a serious need for critical editing that would have obviated a variety of grammatical issues, including spelling errors, omitted words and poor usage of English. A further disappointment arises over the fact that the thirteenth birthday Philip is about to celebrate is obviously his Bar Mitzvah, but it is never addressed as such. One wonders why the author has not taken the opportunity to share with readers the greater significance of this rite of passage rather than hiding behind coy alternative allusions, especially when the book is described as a coming-of-age story.
Illustrator Ross Paperman has done his best to inject life into the text with his bright, colorful, stylized cartoons, but unfortunately they cannot compensate for the uninspired text and lack of focus on a specific audience.
Aileen Wortley is a retired librarian from Toronto, ON.
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