There used to be an empty chair at the back of the class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He’s nine years old but he never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are everyone’s favourite!

After learning that he has fled his own war-torn country, Ahmet’s classmates have ‘The Greatest Idea in the World’ – a magnificent plan to reunite him with his family. An unexpected and often hilarious adventure follows, all topped off with a terrific twist which will be brought to life on the Newcastle Theatre Royal stage (Tue 30 Apr – Sat 4 May 2024).

Onjali Q. Raúf is an award-winning and best-selling children’s author and activist who was awarded an MBE in 2022 for her services to women’s rights and children’s literature. Her debut book, The Boy at the Back of the Class, was met with critical acclaim and received multiple awards, including the 2019 Blue Peter Book Award, Waterstones Children’s Book Prize and has now been adapted by Nick Ahad into a stage play which is touring the UK in 2024.

The story is centred around Ahmet, a young refugee from Syria – ‘The Boy at the Back of the Class’ and follows the story of his classmates who through their sensitivity, curiosity and innocent niceness, make a huge impact on Ahmet’s life. The tale teaches children what it is to be a good person, whatever their own circumstances.

Told from a child’s perspective, balancing heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class highlights the power of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense and reminds us that everyone needs a place to call home.

The story focuses on the plan of a group of nine-year-old children whose logic extends to ‘why wouldn’t I help this refugee boy – he’s the same as me’. This simplistic, innocent optimism on display and the plan created by these school children that is audacious in its naivety is, to Nick Ahad, a theatre critic of 20 years and creator of the stage adaptation of The Boy at the Back of the Class, what audiences find so moving.

“It’s at that moment in the performance that I always start crying.” he adds.

“When you hear politicians talk about the ‘refugee crisis’ and use language that is a constant attempt to strip refugees and asylum seekers of their humanity, it’s easy to believe that’s what everybody believes. They’re wrong. The children cheering The Boy at the Back of the Class are proving they are wrong.” Nick smiles, “The story is absolutely full of naive, innocent hope and because that is embodied in a group of nine-year-old children, I think it makes me realise that the generation coming up behind us give us reason to be hopeful.”

The Boy at the Back of the Class has proved popular with readers aged 7+ in primary and secondary schools across the country, along with Raúf’s other titles which include The Star Outside My Window, The Night Bus Hero, and brand-new book published in April 2024, The Letter with the Golden Stamp – which touches on the challenges navigated by children caring for loved ones at home.

The Boy at the Back of the Class plays Newcastle Theatre Royal Tue 30 Apr – Sat 4 May 2024. Tickets can be purchased at or from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 0191 232 7010.

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