The Boy at the Back of the Class: Book Review and Guide

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The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf is about a refugee boy who is new to the class. It is a book about kindness and the impact one person can have on another person’s life.

This is a great book to use as a springboard to discuss racism and the plight of the refugee with an elementary student. Parents of sensitive children should pay attention to the “note” section in The Boy at the Back of the Class review.

This review of The Boy at the Back of the Class includes discussion questions.

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The Boy at the Back of the Class
Onjali Q. Raúf

Genre: Realistic Fiction
Length: 304 pages
First Published: 2020

View on Amazon | View on Goodreads

The Boy at the Back of the Class
Publisher’s Description

There used to be an empty chair at the back of Mrs. Khan’s classroom, but on the third Tuesday of the school year a new kid fills it: nine-year-old Ahmet, a Syrian refugee. The whole class is curious about this new boy–he doesn’t seem to smile, and he doesn’t talk much. But after learning that Ahmet fled a Very Real War” and was separated from his family along the way, a determined group of his classmates band together to concoct the Greatest Idea in the World–a magnificent plan to reunite Ahmet with his loved ones.

My Goodreads Review

A new boy, Ahmet, has filled the empty chair at the back of the classroom. He is similar in age to the other students but he never talks, smiles, or interacts with them. While he seems strange, the truth is that he is a refugee who has run away from danger. Four students decide to befriend Ahmet, learn more about him, and help him find his family. As a result, none of their lives will be the same.

I adored this book and it brought me to tears more than once. This is the first fiction book I have found for elementary students that addressed the plight of the refugee. It opens the door to a very difficult but timely topic for parents who want to discuss it with their kids. This book is an age-appropriate look at a difficult topic, but parents of sensitive children should use caution. (see NOTE below).

My favorite line (p. 250) is, “That the entire world is full of hearts searching for a place to call home. But refugees are different because they don’t just look for a home. They look for peace too. And because of that, they possess the most special hearts anyone could ever have.”

The kindness shown in the book by the four main children is a wonderful example of welcoming hearts that include everyone. The children take some big risks for their friend (isn’t this often true in kid’s books), but the parents and other adults make it very clear that what they did was dangerous. That said, it all turns out for the best…of course.

NOTE: There is some bullying that is difficult to read about as well as language (racism, bigotry, etc) that might be unfamiliar to a young child. Parents should be prepared to discuss this topic as well as these words if they read this book with their child. (or give it to their child to read). Some of the adults in this book behave in horrible ways, which might be realistic but is hard to read.

I highly recommend this one for elementary and middle school readers. It would make a great read-aloud for discussion.

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Discussion Questions for Your Homeschool Study

1. Where do you see examples of kindness by students? teachers? parents? What impact does their kindness have on the people around them?

2. Have you ever encountered or witnessed a bully? How did you react or how would you react? What advice would you give a friend who is dealing with a bullying situation?

3. If you had to leave your home forever, what three things would you take with you and why? (Your family is coming with you)

4. Look up charities and organizations that support refugees in your local area. Find a way to be involved if you can. You might be able to make donations or donate your time in some way.

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