The Coat is the perfect book to be selected for the CBCA short list in the Picture Book of the Year category because it is a picture book that will linger with you long after you finish reading it just as John Brown Rose and the midnight cat did all those year ago.
I am so happy that so many of the short listed books this year have made use of their end papers. Ron has included two scenes of the countryside in The Coat - one in sepia and the other in full colour. Perhaps this is a reflection of the life of the man - he lives his life in a small way, his self esteem is low, his life perhaps lacks colour, then he takes a journey with the coat and his life is transformed. On the final end paper we see a mirror image of the same scene but this time it is in full colour. The leaves on the trees almost seem to shine.
This same theme is used through the book with the colours added as the story progresses.
The coat needs the man to set him free. The man needs to coat to reach his full potential and by the end of the book the coat and the man are equal partners moving onward through the journey of life.
I love one of the tiny details in this book. Julie Hunt writes "the man blinked and stared. He noticed it was the sort of coat someone important would wear. It had a velvet collar and a buttonhole that looked as if it was waiting for a flower." Ron Brooks includes this flower on the last page (and on the front cover). "Where are you going?' the doorman asked. 'When will you be back?' 'Who knows,' said the man. 'Who knows,' said the coat. And they strode off into the night."
I am not an art scholar but here are a number of reviews many of which explain the artist and painting references used by Ron Brooks.
When we read this book over the next few weeks in our school library I plan to also share a very early book written by Ron Brooks called Timothy and Gramps. It might be interesting to compare these two books. It would be good to look at another early book too The Pochetto Coat by Ted Greenwood which is also illustrated by Ron Brooks but sadly I no longer have this book in my school library.
One final thing. I was once lucky enough to hear Ron Brooks speak at the CBC Conference in Hobart and he explained that the font for Fox was very important to him and he struggled for a long time to get this right. The final 'font' was inspired by his son's simple handwriting. In The Coat Ron has used Callie Hand - which is a font that looks like neat and even handwriting with a slightly old fashioned feel. One thing is certain every single detail in these illustrations and in the book design has been very carefully thought through. My favourite page is the one where the man pulls out the straw and the creatures and puts the coat on. "It was much too big but he felt like he might grow into it." This is the heart of The Coat.