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What parents need to know
Parents need to know thatThe Boy at the Back of the Class, by human rights activist Onjali Q. Raúf, takes place in England and looks at the refugee crisis from a kid's-eye view. Some adults tell their kids that refugees are bad for the country and should be kept out (while others advocate for their relief). A teacher turns a blind eye to a bully's bad behavior because they are both white. Playground violence includes punching and fighting in a group. In a key scene, soldiers carry guns and armed guards surround children. A refugee boy describes his home having been bombed, going into exile, his sister and cat dying, and losing his parents. His accounts are told are told in broken English with the help of hand-drawn pictures, so they're not bloody or terribly detailed. But the kids who are listening are affected by the telling.
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What's the story?
In THE BOY AT THE BACK OF THE CLASS, Onjali Q. Rauf's debut novel, a boy named Ahmet suddenly appears sitting in the back Mrs. Khan's class. He doesn't speak to anyone, seems very scared, and disappears at recess. The narrator, a 9-and-3/4-year-old British kid, along with a pack of friends, decides to befriend him: first with candy and oranges after school, then with soccer matches and displays of loyalty on the playground. When the kids learn that Ahmet has been separated from his family, his new friends decide to take matters in their own hands and make a plan that ends up shaking up much more than the status quo on the playground.
Is it any good?
A lively plot enriches a story of a refugee kid who's come to England without his parents. The kids in The Boy in the Back of the Class take their friend's plight very seriously when they concoct a plan to help re-connect him with his lost parents. The resulting madcap scenario is steeped in serious business, and it's an overall enjoyable, informative read. The brash opinions of the adult world are almost always filtered though the insightful explanations of caring adults. In fact, the network of adults that cares about these kids is ever-present, which makes the adventurous risk-taking in the book feel cushioned.
However, there's a disconnect between the political realities surrounding these 9- and 10-year-olds and what they actually understand about the world. The narrator -- whose gender and name are not revealed until the end of the book, making the case for the universal every-kid -- has been incredibly sheltered in unusual ways. For example, the narrator doesn't know that their family has a refugee story a generation back. Nor has the narrator heard of World War II, which seems pretty unrealistic for a kid living in modern-day London. Perhaps if the characters in the book has been portrayed as younger, the naiivite would make more sense. Nevertheless, this engaging book can serve as a resource for readers who want to learn more about the global refugee crisis without being flattened by the weight of the world.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the refugee experience in The Boy at the Back of the Class. How does Ahmet's arrival at the school change the dynamic? How are refugees portrayed in the media?
The Boy at the Back of the Class takes place in England, close to the continent of Europe, where many refugees have crossed borders. Would the story in this book be told differently in the United States? How much does geography matter?
We don't know the name or gender of the narrator until the very end of the book. How does gender affect the telling of a story? Does it matter to you if the narrator is a boy or a girl?
- Author: Onjali Q. Rauf
- Genre: Friendship
- Topics: Activism, Adventures, Friendship, Great Boy Role Models, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Delacorte Press
- Publication date: August 20, 2019
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 12
- Number of pages: 256
- Available on: Paperback, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: August 29, 2019
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