August 06, 2019

The Boy at the Back of the Class

By Onjali Q. Raúf
Review by
Alexa sets out to befriend a newcomer and to understand what it means to be a refugee.
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Alexa, age 9 ¾, and her group of friends are changed when a boy named Ahmet takes the seat at the back of the class. In this debut novel and British import, the classmates learn that this quiet boy is a refugee from Syria. Brendan the Bully and his gang try to terrorize Ahmet, other students spread rumors about him, and parents instill intolerance in their children by spewing disparaging remarks about him. Nevertheless, Alexa sets out not only to befriend this newcomer but also to understand what it means to be a refugee.

She starts with a list of questions, from why he had to leave his home country to what his favorite fruit is. But as Alexa learns more about Ahmet, including his arduous trek across countries and his separation from his family, she forms even more questions. And when Alexa discovers that England’s borders will soon close and Ahmet may never get to see his parents again, she gathers her friends to carry out “The Greatest Idea in the World,” a daring plan that involves contacting the queen for assistance.

Onjali Q. Raúf’s heartwarming story highlights the plight of young refugees around the world. To help children comprehend and empathize with Ahmet’s plight, the book offers additional information about refugees in the United States, refugee resettlement agencies and how refugees differ from migrants. Readers of all ages will appreciate the guided questions and discussion prompts to think about one’s own identity and place.

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