Amid scores of schoolmates, one of the common aims of children is to stand out. In Marjorie Murrow’s picture book Keisha’s Coat, the heroine tries to attract attention by wearing her clothes the wrong way.
Murrow’s story begins with skilled characterization, and readers quickly get to know Keisha, who has garnered attention from her classmates by wearing her shirt backwards at school. When that novelty wears off, Keisha one day puts on her shirt inside out and backwards, but no one notices.
In an injection of metafiction, Keisha soon meets the author of the book The Surprise in Grandma’s Eyes (Murrow herself), who notices that in Keisha’s excitement to meet a real author, she’s worn her white coat upside down. The author proposes to write a story about Keisha’s coat, and as the final line of the book states, “that is just what the author did!”
Murrow spent much of her career teaching first graders, and her familiarity with children of that age, and their school lives, is evident. She offers vivid details of mastering math skills and special classroom events, which help to create a realistic setting.
Murrow’s writing and Killebrew’s illustrations are capable, but what falls short is the story itself. Keisha’s desire to be noticed eventually leads to the creation of this book, but aside from that self-referential plot twist, there’s no larger meaning or point to the story. As written, it comes across as a pleasant but inconsequential anecdote, where the groundwork had been laid for much more. Without a “moral to the story,” the implicit message seems to be that attracting attention is its own reward – perhaps not the kind of reinforcement that 21st century children need. Murrow and Killebrew have a solid collaboration, but they need a more complete and satisfying story to hang their hats on.