Refugee Week Book Blog: The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf

Today’s kid lit title is the Blue Peter Best Story Award winner The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Raúf. Helping me with today’s book review is my 8-year-old son Dominic. Over to him:

The book is about a 9 year-old boy called Ahmet and he comes from Syria and he is a refugee. A refugee is a person who comes from a different country because of war. And so he took the empty seat at the back of the class and he didn’t talk much because he doesn’t speak English. And some other kids Michael, Josie and Tom and Alexa who try to make friends with him. Josie wonders where his mum and dad are. Ahmet tells them he doesn’t know. One day in class Ahmet tells them his story. Alexa hears some people talking on the bus about the borders being closed next week and the friends decide they have to find Ahmet’s family before the borders close. They come up with a plan which they call the Greatest Idea in the World. It involves sending a letter to the Queen. I really like the picture they draw of the plan

The book is very good because it’s like a real story but they’ve put it into somebody else’s words. It helps me to understand more about the people we help at DRS (Derbyshire Refugee Solidarity).

Dominic and I have enjoyed reading this book together. Until we sat down to write this review, we actually hadn’t realised that the protagonist’s name is actually not mentioned throughout the book. It isn’t right until the end that it is clarified that the protagonist is a girl called Alexa. Dominic had presumed it was a girl, I had presumed it was a boy. I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet about the typical girl/boy stereotypes so it is great that this is so refreshingly neutral.

The kids in class who befriend Ahmet are so open-minded and where they see that someone needs help, they jump right in. We also see how Ahmet is defended by our champions against Brendan-the-Bully – the importance of standing up for others. I did find a few aspects a little odd – do 9-year-olds take the bus unaccompanied? – but overall this was a great book for this age group. It’s not too scary but it does explain the circumstances of Ahmet’s homeland, the journey he has taken to get here and the fact his sister has died at sea. Dominic regularly joins me at DRS and it was useful to have the discussion that some of the children we meet there may have had a similar experience.

For more World Kid Lit titles, you can also visit the World Kid Lit blog.

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