This is a relatively gentle story about a Syrian refugee who enters 3rd grade in England and the young girl who reaches out to be his friend and help reunite him with his remaining family before immigration laws change in the UK.
Nine-year-old Alexa has a lot of questions about the boy, Ahmet, who shows up in the empty chair in the back of Mrs. Khan's class. She writes them down, and is determined to both find answers to her questions and become friends with Ahmet, who hides behind his interpreter when she approaches him and doesn't eat lunch with all the other kids or play on the playground. He goes to a sort of time-out space and works on counseling during those times, to help him process the trauma of what he's experienced, when everyone else is socializing.
After school, she starts bringing Ahmet her oranges from lunch, and soon her other friends, Josie, Michael and Tom, contribute too. As they get to know Ahmet, they learn his family's story, fleeing from violence in Syria, crossing mountains, making the Mediterranean Sea crossing and his sister drowning, living in a camp in Greece and eventually getting separated.
Then Alexa learns the immigration laws in England are going to change, and even if Ahmet finds his father, his father may soon not be allowed to enter the UK. So she concocts an elaborate plan to get a message to the Queen about Ahmet, and stirs a media frenzy in the process.
Alexa's not totally insulated from beliefs and prejudices about refugees in the UK, and her sudden notoriety brings out the best and worst in those around her. Thankfully, it also means Ahmet's family is found, his father in a refugee camp in France and mother in Turkey.
Teaching Note: This book has some absolutely stellar free teaching resources. It's probably best for a lower elementary classroom, maybe through 4th grade, but given the age of the characters, only 9, I can't imagine kids in middle school reading this one.
All of the resources I'm going to mention, list or link to are fantastic. I really wish this much attention would be given to upper middle grade and lower YA books for teaching purposes, as well.
Free teaching resources include: