The Boy at the Back of the Class was the December selection for the Book of the Month (BOTM) at Great Middle Grade Reads. Since I’m once more organising the BOTM as of this month, I thought I’d better show willing. Besides it was a rare book picked by the (mostly US) group members, that was in my UK library.
The Boy at the Back of the Class
by Onjali Q Rauf
Told with humor and heart, ‘THE BOY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASS’ offers a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.
There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.
He’s eight years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favorite!
But the truth is, Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to be his friend.
That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan. [goodreads]
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This book proudly carries the Blue Peter Award for the Best Story (2019). That should have made me realise before I started it, that it’s a UK production. How refreshing. And how topical.
If you don’t live in the UK, or Europe, you probably haven’t noticed that the arrogant leaders of this Isle think we’re something special, far too good to accept any old riff-raff entering our shores and taking British jobs (and welfare state handouts, pitiful though they are). Sorry, I may need to censor this review for Goodreads.
The book: how a refugee from Syria found himself on a chair at the back of the narrator’s class. How his story, both his history and what the locals do to help him, comes out.
I live on the south coast. Our coastguards and lifeboats are alert to rescue people in open boats crossing the superhighway of tankers and freighters–La Manche, or the English Channel. That’s at the risk of encountering Royal Navy warships on alert to keep the people out and turn them back. I told you it was disgusting.
Onali Q Rauf knows the details of this only too well. The story she has crafted holds all the pathos of families fleeing for their lives, yet a straightforward development of friendship between young people regardless of the politics. Although some parents are free with their political views. So it’s a wonderful mix of great story telling, and information for kids that they will hear (and repeat) in their own playgrounds.
The plot has a slight swerve into the mawkish, but then gets out of it, with some excellent advice for youngsters who inadvertently become celebrities.
Does it matter that it’s UK based? No, I think not: the plight of Central/South Americans trying to escape warlords in their own countries and reach America is well known. Virtually all the countries of Europe, south west Asia, and north west Africa are involved in the refugee crisis (the latter in addition to their own drought problems).
And what started as escape from war will get worse as people seek new homes not devastated by climate change. This is just the start. If you want to consider where it might go, see The Survival Game, which I read a couple of years ago.
It’s a brilliant, engrossing story. It also presses my buttons.Book Review | The Boy at the Back of the Class @onjalirauf 'a brilliant, engrossing story. It also presses my buttons.' Ideal for helping your child understand the position of refugees #BoyattheBackoftheClass #mglit #BluePeter Book… Click To Tweet
Onjali Q. Rauf is the founder of Making Herstory, an organisation mobilising men, women and children from all walks of life to tackle the abuse and trafficking of women and girls in the UK and beyond. In her spare time she delivers emergency aid convoys for refugee families surviving in Calais and Dunkirk, and supports interfaith projects.
Her first novel, The Boy at the Back of the Class, has sold over 100,000 copies and won multiple awards. Her second book, The Star Outside My Window, publishes in October 2019.