The Boy at the Back of the Class by Onjali Q Rauf, illustrated by Pippa Curnick (Orion, £6.99)

This is a very topical story for children (age 8+) with the refugee crisis firmly at its heart. One day, the empty seat at the back of the class is filled by a new pupil, who doesn’t talk, doesn’t smile and doesn’t eat lemon sherberts. This turns out to be the rather mysterious Ahmet, who is from Syria. The other kids are desperate to shower the newcomer with gifts and questions, but he disappears in lunch breaks, so they all come up with slightly outlandish theories as to who he is, involving kidnapping and infectious diseases.

This sets the scene for a very engaging read. Although adults are on hand to provide a rounded, or in some cases, a narrow-minded view of the refugee situation, the plot is focussed clearly on the pupils, who, seeing a fellow child whose family is missing, simply want to help. They have no time for red tape and rules, but do have a rather endearing faith that those in charge of the country should want to help.

The little group of friends at the centre of this book are very relatable, there are acts of true kindness, such as the narrator’s epic quest (with Mum) to find a pomegranate to give to Ahmet, and also plenty of danger, in the form of the distant war and nearer to home with the playground bully.

This book doesn’t side-step human tragedy, but presents it in a way that is in tune with its young readership. A good head of steam is built up as the plot thickens, and our main character plans a very daring adventure in order to deliver an important letter. What could be a dry subject is brought across with understanding, humour and excitement. Top marks too for having the Tintin books as a named inspiration throughout!

A wonderful, unique book, showing the kindness and quiet strength of children in today’s complicated world.

Tim Curtis