It’s been a while since I’ve read such an over the top silly book that has a lot of heart. It is 352 pages that remind me of the the My Teacher is an Alien book series of my youth smashed up with the Weirder School/Diary of a Wimpy Kid series of today. Meant for upper elementary with some bad words (hell and damn), the story is Pakistani-British representation with many Muslim named characters, a Muslim author, and a shout out to a KFC in another town that is halal. Don’t read it if if you want to learn anything, but definitely pick it up if you want to roll your eyes, giggle, and ponder a world where Desi aunties are the perfect disguise for force feeding an entire community delicious food as part of their evil plan to take over the world.
Humza Mohammed Khan is an 11 year old Pakistani kid in Britain who thinks of himself as the next big rapper, Little Badman. He dreams big and talks even bigger as he struts around primary school getting in trouble and trying to film his music video on his friend Umer’s extremely old Nokia flip phone. With a normal enough mom, a hyper exaggerating father, and a handful of their friends known as Aunties and Uncles, Humza gets in trouble regularly enough, but overall seems to have a good heart.
Things at school slowly start to change after their teacher gets stung by a bee named Mustafa, that Umer brought to school to be his pet. Weird as that might be, it is even more odd, when their teacher is replaced by a volunteer auntie. Every day it seems like a teacher goes missing, and is replaced by some asian kids’ aunt. When the supper ladies are replaced and the food improves, no one is complaining. When every volunteer starts bringing snacks to school, no problem. Who doesn’t love gulab jams, and samosas, and butter chicken all day long every day? Well, as the school puts on the pounds and all the teachers and staff are officially missing, Humza, Umer and their former nemesis Wendy, start to get worried. Humza’s Uncle who he calls Grandpa, claims his wife Auntie Uzma is not really his wife, and helps Humza investigate.
Secret meetings in supermarkets, teachers and grandpa vanishing, and Humza seeing a giant slug coming out of the substitute librarian, means that Little Badman is going to have to run away from cricket practice, not get sent in a crate to Pakistan, face his stage fright, and save the day from the aliens taking over the aunties.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I like that it is cultural rep and own voice in its telling. Humza is Pakistani and his cultural baggage is hilarious and part of him, and no explanations are needed. In his world people are from lots of places and they all live and play and learn together and they eat caramel apples and toffee and jilabies. The diversity is great and not articulated, it just is what it is, and they all have to work together to save the day. I think my favorite character is Grandpa, who Humza has to learn to appreciate and not just see as an old almost dead guy and Humza’s dad who exaggerates everything and takes his cricket very seriously. At the end Humza has to have a heart to heart with his dad and his uncle, Grandpa and it makes this over the top nutty story really kind of sweet too.
There is no “Islam” in it aside from Muslim names and mention in a rap of a halal KFC. I kind of like that they are Muslim kids and it appeals to a larger audience, sure something praying or something at some point might have been nice, but it isn’t a book that you’d be expecting spiritual nuggets from, so it is ok.
The words damn and hell are used. There is disrespect of authority, parents, and teachers as well as lying.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I had my ten year old read it and he thought it was ok, but was uncomfortable with the language, which I was glad, but I told him I thought he could handle it, and know what is appropriate to use. That being said, school libraries should have the book, maybe not classroom libraries though, and I probably wouldn’t do it as a book club. I will have my other kids read it though, cause like I said, it is silly and fun.
Interview with comedian author Humza Arshad: https://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-features/features/2019/march/meet-little-badman/