Title: Homeless Bird
Author: Gloria Whelan
Illustrator/Photographer: Not Applicable
Publisher, Year: HarperCollins Publisher, 2000
Number of pages: 182
Genre: Realistic fiction, historic fiction, fiction
Descriptive Annotation: Koly is a thirteen-year-old girl who is growing up in modern India. Her parents have decided that she needs to get married, and though she is very sad to leave her family Koly knows it will be much easier with one less mouth to feed. Eventually, Maa and Baap (Koly’s parents) arrange for her to marry Hari Mehta, who is also thirteen years old and very sick. The day after the wedding, Koly finds out that Hari has tuberculosis and the Mehta’s tricked Koly’s parents for a dowry to take Hari to the Ganges River. Hari ends up dying the day after they arrive at the river, and makes Koly’s life very difficult from then on. Mr. Mehta also dies and causes Mrs. Mehta to take Koly with her to Delhi, but ends up abandoning her in another city filled with widows. Raji (a rickshaw driver) rescues Koly and finds her a place to live. The woman who runs the home see’s Koly has quilted and hires her. Raji and Koly continue to develop a relationship until he tells her that he is returning to farm in the country. He wants Koly to marry him, but she does not until he writes a letter explaining he built a room just for her quilting.
Linguistic and Cultural Diversity Analysis: Since the setting is in India, there are many cultural differences to discuss with students. A topic that may over power everything else could be the idea of arranged marriages, especially for thirteen year olds. Since they dialogue in English, it may be interesting to mention that there are at least eighteen different languages, which could disrupt communication. There are some Indian words used in the text but students are able to figure out the meaning from direct context clues. There is so much realistic events that have and do happen in the story that things students may bring up could be turned into a lesson.
Interdisciplinary Connections: Gloria Whelan uses a lot of imagery and personification in the story, and a lesson could be based around determining what is specifically included and what sense is being utilized. I think many interesting questions could come up about the meaning of the title and other objects found throughout the story, such as the reoccurring quilting theme. This book also fits quite well into social studies, since it is chock full of all sorts of events that are not commonplace in the United States. Also, an art integration would be to have students make a paper quilt showing pictures of important events/people/objects to them and sharing them.
Other Information: This would be good for students that like learning about different culture. When I first read this book in middle school, I was shocked to hear that arranged marriages still happened and it lead to me reading more about teenage girls in India. I think that it is an excellent book but students need to be mature enough to respect the situation and not dismiss it as fiction. I would definitely use this book in an upper elementary/middle school classroom. Homeless Bird has received fifteen separate awards and Whelan has written over 30 children’s books, as well as two adult texts.