Politics, disastrous fires, climate change and my gradually expanding waistline are all things I’m trying hard not to think about. I can do something about the latter (although whether I will is another matter) but the rest leave me feeling a little powerless – rather like the average child these days. My answer is, obviously, to read as if I were a child and, more specifically, as if I were one of the youngsters I’ve been seeing over the recent Easter holidays. So, having done my Easter egg colouring sheets, my word search and the Find the Duck treasure hunt, I’ve settled down with these two…
Little Badman and the Invasion of the Killer Aunties – Henry White & Humza Arshad
Humza Khan is a fairly typical boy. He lives with his parents – cricket-mad Dad who is always telling very tall stories and super strict Mum – but is mostly interested in becoming a celebrity. In Humza’s case he is going to be a famous rapper: after all, he’s already the greatest eleven-year-old rapper his home town has ever known. Helped by his best friend Umer and his favourite teacher, Mr Turnbull, he’s going to create a track which will be far too cool for the school end of year talent show. Things start to go wrong, however, when the punishments for his latest misdemeanours include joining the school cricket team (now run by his Dad, the world’s most embarrassing parent) and having to baby-sit his elderly Uncle (confusingly known as Grandpa): they get worse when teachers at his school start falling sick and being replaced, not by supply teachers, but by proper Asian Aunties. At first this seems like the best thing ever – no homework and plenty of rewards in the form of sweets, cakes and yummy samosas – but when Mr Turnbull is replaced things seem to be getting serious. When Grandpa – who is nowhere near as decrepit as he first seems – becomes sure that Hamza’s own Auntie Uzma isn’t really herself anymore it seems that Humza, Umer and class brain Wendy (who is, frankly, disgusted to be replacing homework and essays with cake appreciation) need to investigate what is going on.
This book is really funny but with a great plot. All the characters seem both realistic and larger than life – Grandpa was my favourite – and, although most of them are very specifically from a South Asian background, they are very relatable for everyone. After all, every child of eleven feels that they could be world famous if only their family would stop being so cringe-makingly embarrassing….
Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet – Zanib Mian (illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik)
Omar is, once again, a very normal little boy living with his parents, older sister and little brother. Although he usually enjoys lessons (he wants to be a scientist and follow in his Mum and Dad’s footprints) he’s not looking forward to school – they have recently moved house and now he will be ‘the new boy’. Omar is a resourceful lad, however, and, aided by his imaginary dragon H²O he soon settles in to his new school. He makes a new best friend, Charlie, but also catches the eye of the class bully. Both Daniel, the bully, and Mrs Rogers, a rather stand-offish next door neighbour mistrust Omar and his family because they don’t understand their Muslim faith but he, and his family, manage to win them over with a combination of resourcefulness, food and good neighbourliness.
The story in this book is a bit less zany than Little Badman – no aliens or sinister aunties – but is one that any young child could relate to: being the odd one out. Omar knows he will be odd because he is the new kid in class but discovers that he stands out because of his faith background – what is lovely is that the way he explains what makes him a Muslim is very low-key, very matter of fact and, frequently, connected with food, family and (rather less often) Ferraris. So as well as a pleasant story (with what could be called the Year 4 equivalent of ‘mild peril’) this would be a really useful book to introduce non-Muslim children to the everyday realities of the faith without being ‘preachy’. And for the Muslim children it is one of the rare chances for them to see themselves in the fiction they read.