What to Read After... The Boy at the Back of the Class
Published on: 19 July 2020 Author: Anna McKerrow
The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q. Raúf is a bestseller and beloved by children - but which other stories might its fans enjoy? We've got some ideas and would love to hear your thoughts too!
Onjali Q Rauf's chart-topping, bestselling and altogether marvellous The Boy at the Back of the Class is a story about a refugee boy with a powerful theme about putting yourself in someone else's shoes, being a good friend and doing right by others. Here are some more books to read if you loved it!
For more books about the refugee experience for 9-12s...
Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin's graphic novel Illegal,illustrated by Giovanni Rigano, is a powerful tale that pulls you into the epic journey to Europe made by a refugee boy. Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson's new graphic novel, When Stars Are Scattered, tells the incredible story of Omar's life as a child refugee fleeing Somalia with his brother.
Elsewhere, Steve Tasane's Child I is a moving tale following the unaccompanied children and volunteers living in a refugee camp: it's impossible not to be deeply touched while reading it.
For slightly older readers...
Illustration: Kate Milner
Zana Fraillon's The Bone Sparrow tells the powerful, heartbreaking story of Subhi, who has lived in a refugee camp all his life. In Boy 87 by Ele Fountain, 14-year-old Shif and his best friend Bini are sent to a remote desert prison in an unnamed country.
And in The Jungle by Pooja Puri, Mico is a young African boy stuck in the notorious, makeshift refugee camp at Calais. Hunger and difficult circumstances make the lure of joining the gangs and turning to crime almost inevitable.
For books that explain the refugee experience to younger readers...
You could try Kate Milner's I Am Not A Refugee, The Ones That Disappeared and Wisp: A Story of Hope by Zana Fraillon, or The Journey by Francesca Sanna, all of which explain the sadness of having to leave your home (or, in the case of Wisp, the experience of being born in a refugee camp).
For more books to build empathy
Cover: Tad Carpenter
Candy Gourlay's Tall Story touches on similar themes of being a stranger in a strange land, but also reminds us what we have in common, as does Wonder by RJ Palacio, a fantastic book (like The Boy at the Back of the Class) about the power of kindness.
Shaun Tan's modern classic The Arrival is also suitable for older primary school aged children and is a great book to inspire discussion about the experience of coming to an unfamiliar new country. And in Catherine Bruton's No Ballet Shoes in Syria, Aya is a Syrian asylum seeker, looking after her mother and baby brother in the cold, unfamiliar city of Manchester - but she is also a talented ballet dancer.
Finally, Remy Lai's Pie in the Sky is a heartwarming illustrated story about Jingwen's struggle to get to grips with losing his dad and moving to Australia, where he doesn't speak the language - and bakes his dad's favourite cake recipes as a way to stay connected to his memory.
For recommendations from Onjali herself...
Illustration: Mike Lowery
Who better to ask for ideas than Onjali herself? She had two fantastic suggestions for us:
'I remember being utterly intrigued by the cover of Frank Cottrell-Boyce's The Unforgotten Coat, and that intrigue lasted from the first photo to the last word. It's a staggeringly beautiful, insightful story into the world of two Mongolian refugee brothers and their hilarious "Good Guide" Julie. From Mongolia to Liverpool is an epic journey to make, and a hilarious one too when soccer, school uniforms and British slang coupled with nomadic traditions is brought into the mix. A perfect follow-on to any other book being read, ever! And even more so if you're ready for a deeper swim into more refugee-and-school based stories.
'Lisa Thompson's The Boy Who Fooled the World is a natural follow-on for anyone salivating for more stories centring on 'ordinary' children having extraordinary adventures. I loved reading of Cole's spectacular rise to fame and navigating a world of truths versus lies and the consequences of both. It's a brilliant, funny and eye-openingly heady story, bringing into play what it feels like being an outsider one moment, to being suddenly, giddily famous. A sensation Ahmet and his friends can definitely relate to!'
And, of course, we have to recommend Onjali's second novel The Star Outside My Window - and keep an eye out for The Night Bus Hero, which is due to be released in October 2020. We cannot wait!
Now it's your turn! We'd love to hear which books you would recommend for a fan of The Boy at the Back of the Class - maybe you've read something recently that would fit the bill, or you know stories children loved after devouring Onjali's story!
Let us know what you'd suggest by getting in the comments below or by tweeting us @BookTrust using the hashtag #WhatToReadAfter. We can't wait to hear your ideas!
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