The Jacket by Andrew Clements is a story I’ve used with kids who have social skill weaknesses, especially around the issue of race and skin color. Although it’s an older book (with odd technological references), the story line is simple and provides a starting point for introducing the concepts of racial stereotyping. I’ve worked with a number of kids on the autism spectrum who’ve had rigid ideas about skin color. Some of these kids hadn’t even recognized their own racial identity. I recall more than one parent of an ASD student feeling mortified by their child’s unique and public ways of categorizing skin tones. This book is also a good starting point for helping kids who have grown up with more “typical” racist stereotypes.
In The Jacket, Phil, a white boy, accuses a black student, Daniel, of stealing his jacket. Phil had outgrown the jacket but passed it along to his brother. The jacket had been given to Daniel’s grandmother, who gave it to her grandson. The conversations and relationships depicted in this book are straightforward. The story line is also simple. Phil eventually wonders if he would have reacted so angrily had he seen a white boy wearing a jacket that looked like his. Phil must also confront his father’s racism, while Daniel deals with stereotypes of his own. The story has a simplistic ending, but for kids who are just starting to address the effect of race and skin color on their social relationships, The Jacket has been a helpful tool. It’s a quick read and provides vocabulary for discussing more complex issues.
Weirdness: The cover picture above is not from the original book, which features images of middle school kids, in keeping with the story line.