Coat of Many Colors

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
Coat of Many Colors Book Poster Image
Lyrics of inspirational Dolly Parton song address bullying.

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age 18+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Mention of Bible story Joseph and his coat of many colors. Some period and rural details pictured in art such as teacher ringing large school bell, box radio, lanterns, butter churn.

Positive Messages

Families that have little money can be rich in love. Family love and support can buoy us. Parental love is a strong anchor. When bullied or ridiculed, kids can still maintain dignity. Families without means can be resourceful. Wearing used or patched clothing isn't shameful.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though the girl's ridiculed by her classmates for her coat made of rags, she explains that she's proud of it because her mother stitched it with love and remains steadfastly proud of her family.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Coat of Many Colors is a picture book illustrating the lyrics of country music star Dolly Parton's 1971 hit song of the same name. The song tells a story from Dolly's hardscrabble Tennessee mountain childhood. When she didn't have a coat, her mom sewed her one out of rags, and kids at school ridiculed her. The lyrics reference the Old Testament Bible story about Joseph and his coat of many colors, emphasize the healing love of family, and can supplement lessons at home about bullying and developing empathy for others. In May 2016, a biographical movie named Dolly Parton's Coat of Many Colors was released on DVD and streaming. Families can also get a downloadable song about bullying and self-esteem for free from Parton's charitable foundation website, though it's not this particular song.

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What's the story?

COAT OF MANY COLORS uses the lyrics of Dolly Parton's song of the same name to tell a story from her childhood. As winter approached, she didn't have a coat, so her mom sewed her one out of rags and told her the Bible story of Joseph and his coat of many colors. In the book, a little blond girl who resembles Dolly is proud of her handmade patchwork coat and skips off to school, but kids there make fun of it. She tells them that her mama sewed love in every stitch: "Now I know we had no money but I was rich as I could be in my coat of many colors my mama made for me … made just for me."

Is it any good?

Fans of country music and Dolly Parton will love this book based on her famous song that directly addresses issues of poverty and bullying and emphasizes the richness of family love. The song "Coat of Many Colors," written by Parton about her rural Tennessee childhood, was first released in 1971, but the problems it addresses are just as relevant today. The text, which might be made even more memorable for kids by pairing it with the song, can support important lessons about empathy vs. making fun of others.

The soft watercolor illustrations by Brooke Boynton-Hughes are warm and appealing and convincingly portray a tight, loving family, though the house looks more like a well-appointed country house than the one-room cabin in rural Appalachia where Parton's impoverished parents raised 12 children. Still, the homey touches can help young readers concretely picture the family's love. The classmates and neighbors include kids of color, an idealized portrayal of the rural Tennessee schoolhouse of Parton's childhood, though it makes Coat of Many Colors more relatable for readers today and models integration and inclusion.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the poverty in Coat of Many Colors. Have you ever had to make do because your family couldn't afford something? Did other kids make fun of you? Do you know anyone who couldn't afford a coat?

  • Dolly Parton writes, "Although we had no money, I was rich." What does she mean by "rich"? How do the family members express their love for one another? What does the text say, and what do you notice in the art?

  • How does the girl in the story feel when other kids make fun of her? How does her family help her feel better?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and anti-bullying tales

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