When new boy Mustafa arrives at school, no one wants the job of looking after him. He doesn’t speak much English, and his name is hard to remember. Milo is used to blending into the background, but he discovers that he’s very good at being friendly with boys from other countries. It turns out that boys from other countries like to play games, and laugh, and come to tea, just like him. As Mustafa learns more English, he makes more friends and become a valued member of the class, but he and Milo remain best friends. Sometimes Mustafa is sad, but Milo realises that, as a friend, all he needs to do is sit beside to him.
One day, Mustafa tells Milo that he has to go back to his old country. Mustafa and his mum are very upset, and so is Milo. There’s nothing anyone can do, and Mustafa has to leave. Milo is left with the knowledge that it is easy to be a good friend, even if you don’t speak the same language to start with. When Milo finds Mustafa’s old school jumper, he hangs it on Mustafa’s peg. And there it remains; even the caretaker doesn’t tidy it away. The school remembers Mustafa, and how special he was.
The gentle and moving book is based on the poem of the same name, also by Coral Rumble. The story and illustrations add to the poem, cleverly portraying that awkwardness children can feel with a new classmate, and emphasising Milo’s journey from a child who prefers not to engage, to one who finds he has an aptitude for friendliness, as well as Mustafa’s assimilation into the school community. As the story progresses, Mustafa’s character is revealed to be fun-loving, chatty and imaginative, and the pages seem empty when he leaves.
With information about refugees and asylum seekers in the back and a copy of the original poem, this book makes a difficult topic accessible. It would make a great starting point for discussion about current affairs for younger children. The lack of a happy ending adds to the power and thought-provoking quality of the text, but be aware that some children may find it upsetting.
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