Homeless Bird / Edition 1

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When thirteen-year-old Koly enters into an ill-fated arranged marriage, she must either suffer a destiny dictated by India's tradition or find the courage to oppose it.

When thirteen-year-old Koly enters into an ill-fated arranged marriage, she must either suffer a destiny dictated by India's tradition or find the courage to oppose it.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In India, it's not so strange for a girl Koly's age to be getting married -- even if she is only 13. She leaves home forever full of courage and hope...until she discovers there's been a terrible mistake. The husband chosen for her is too young, and he's very ill. And as tradition dictates, it's too late to turn back. Koly's future, it would seem, is lost.

Alive with the crush of marketplace crowds, the thick smell of funeral garlands, the cooling rush of the holy river Ganges, and the sting of injustice as a girl's life is forsaken, master storyteller Gloria Whelan transports readers into the heart of a gripping tale of hope. Here is the story of one rare woman who, standing against the powerful current of tradition, discovers her own remarkable future. A National Book Award winner.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Whelan (Miranda's Last Stand) blends modern Hindu culture with age-old Indian traditions as she profiles a poor girl's struggle to survive in a male-dominated society. Only 13 when her parents find her a husband, Koly can't help feeling apprehensive about leaving home to live in a distant village with her in-laws and husband, none of whom she has met. The truth is worse than she could have feared: the groom, Hari, is a sickly child, and his parents have wanted only a dowry, not a wife for him, in order to pay for a trip to Benares so Hari might bathe in the holy waters of the Ganges. Koly is widowed almost immediately; later, she is abandoned in the holy city of Vrindavan by her cruel mother-in-law. Koly, likened to a "homeless bird" in a famous poem by Rabindranath Tagore, embodies the tragic plight of Hindu women without status, family or financial security. She is saved from a dismal fate by her love of beauty, her talent for embroidery and the philanthropy of others--and by Whelan's tidy plotting, which introduces a virtuous young man, a savvy benefactress and a just employer in the nick of time. The feminist theme that dominates the happily-ever-after ending seems more American than Indian, but kids will likely enjoy this dramatic view of an endangered adolescence and cheer Koly's hard-won victories. Ages 8-12. (Mar.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Children's Literature - Children's Literature
A widow at thirteen! Koly is doomed to a widow's sari and destined for a life of misery. Abandoned by her mother-in-law in the holy city of Vindrivan, Koly is desperate. Widows are deemed "unlucky" in India. Certainly Koly feels that way. She finds help from unexpected sources and soon begins shaping her own life as she would one of her exquisite quilts. This courageous teenager will touch your heart and leave an indelible picture as beautiful as the "homeless bird" image and as exotic as the sights and sounds of her native country. The small size of the book makes it ideal for summertime "beach" reading. 2000, HarperCollins, Ages 10 up, $15.95. Reviewer: Jan Lieberman
Thirteen-year-old Koly is from a poor family in India. She enters into an arranged marriage with a sixteen-year-old boy, only to discover that her new husband is very ill. The only reason his parents wanted him to marry Koly was to get their hands on her dowry to finance a trip to find a cure for their son. When her young husband dies, Koly is left under the supervision of her dreadful mother-in-law. When Koly's supportive father-in-law also dies, her mother-in-law abandons Koly in the city. Koly must find her way on her own. As she does, she encounters help from strangers, including a handsome young man, but she also relies on her own inner resources and talents. Homeless Bird has all the elements of a great read—a strong, empathetic heroine, a fascinating culture, triumph over adversity, conflict between tradition and modern-day needs and wants, romance, and hope for the future. The story is beautifully written, weaving in Hindi words that are defined in the glossary provided in the back of the book. Despite the obvious elements of fairy tale—cruel mother-in-law, attractive young male coming to the rescue—the book does not slide into cliché but is unsentimental and fresh. Homeless Bird will satisfy many readers and belongs in every school and public library collection. VOYA CODES: 5Q 5P J S (Hard to imagine it being any better written; Every YA (who reads) was dying to read it yesterday; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2000, HarperCollins, Glossary, 192p. Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Alice Stern VOYA, February 2001 (Vol. 23, No.6)
From The Critics
In Homeless Bird, Gloria Whelan mixed fact and fiction to create a believable and deeply moving story about the harsh path of a young widow in India. Homeless Bird shows how widows in India are believed to be unlucky and how badly they are treated. A young girl named Koly is married off to a sickly boy whose family wants her only for her dowry. When the boy dies, her world turns upside-down. Koly's situation grows worse each day until she finds herself abandoned in the holy city of Vrindavan, a place filled with many other abandoned widows—as well as wonders and unexpected hope. Through Koly, the reader comes to be thankful for the little things like food and shelter, and to cherish those who supply these. Homeless Bird is dazzling from cover to cover, thanks to its beautiful story and amazing imagery. This neatly crafted story is complex, well-paced, and thoroughly engrossing. Whelan keeps the reader engaged by adding bits of humor to an otherwise discouraging tale that, later, becomes uplifting. Whelan obviously went to great lengths to make this story authentic. She used many Indian words like sari, sass, and baap, which makes this fiction rather educational. This book would be a good one for teaching kids about India. Homeless Bird is appropriate for older kids. Koly is a character that older kids, especially, can relate to. However, older kids might find this book a little short and the print rather large for their tastes. I did not feel there was anything in the book that was inappropriate for younger children. Yet, it may be a little long for some and may not capture their interest. Homeless Bird is a book that girls in particular will like because the main character is agirl they can relate to. Boys may not like Homeless Bird because there isn't much action, most of the characters are girls, and it gets a little romantic. All in all, I'd give Homeless Bird nine stars out of ten. 2000, HarperCollins, $15.95. Ages 9 to 12. Reviewer: Brittany Rogers — The Five Owls, November/December 2000 (Vol. 15 No. 2)
This novel tells the story of a young girl in India who follows her parents' wishes and agrees to an arranged marriage, only to discover that living the life of love and freedom that she had hoped for won't be easy. The chaos in Koly's life leads her to unexpected places, and the story takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the history, tradition and modern-day realities of Indian life. This story of hope and redemption embedded in history and culture will provide students and teachers alike with not only an inner glimpse of Indian life but a sense of joy and hope for humanity. The writing is swift, poetic, and beautiful, and an absolute delight to read. Includes a glossary in the back. An excellent book—a must for all middle and high school libraries. A National Book Award winner. Category: Paperback Fiction. KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, HarperTrophy, 186p., Ages 13 to 18. Reviewer: Sarah Applegate; Libn., River Ridge H.S., Lacey, WA
School Library Journal
Gr 4-8-Through Koly, a 13-year-old girl, Indian culture and customs are illuminated in this novel by Gloria Whalin (HarperCollins, 2000). Her marriage rips her from a secure and loving family and places her in the midst of strangers. She meets her husband Hari, a chronically ill young boy, her spiteful mother-in-law, her depressed father-in-law and sweet-natured sister-in-law, Chandra, for the first time on her wedding day. With the subsequent deaths of her husband and father-in-law, and Chandra's marriage, Koly is abandoned by her "sass" in Vrindavan, while on their way to Delhi. Here, as a widow, she discovers her own strengths and courage, eventually weaving a new life for herself. The poetic writing paints the scenes vividly as Koly moves from one precarious situation to the next. Listeners can feel the heat of the dry, dusty courtyard in her new home, and see the brilliant and blinding yellow-orange of the marigolds as she weaves wedding adornments in Vrindavan. Whelan shows Indian life through highly descriptive settings and dialogue. Choudhury, known for major film and television roles, gives a spirited reading of this lyrical work. Her sensitivity brings these characters alive. Moving at a steady pace, the cadence of the voices keep a rhythm that sustains the suspence. Unlike the book with the text of the "Author's Notes," the oral inclusion is not nearly as helpful to listeners; a printed insert would have been helpful for readers in order to see the spellings and definitions of these Hindi words. The audio rendition can only increase the book's popularity and circulation among listeners, whether for enjoyment or as part of a multicultural curriculum.-Tina Hudak, St. Bernard's School, Riverdale, MD Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786240609
  • Publisher: Cengage Gale
  • Publication date: 5/2/2002
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 147
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Gloria Whelan

Gloria Whelan is the bestselling author of many novels for young readers, including Homeless Bird, winner of the National Book Award, The Locked Garden, Parade of Shadows, and Listening for Lions. She lives in Michigan near Lake St. Clair.

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Read an Excerpt


"Koly, you are thirteen and growing every day," Maa said to me. "It's time for you to have a husband." I knew why. There were days when my maa took only a bit of rice for herself so that the rest of us -- my baap, my brothers, and I -- might have more. "It's one of my days to fast," she would say, as if it were a holy thing, but I knew it was because there was not enough food to go around. The day I left home, there would be a little more for everyone else. I had known the day was coming, but the regret I saw in Maa's eyes made me tremble.

My baap, like all fathers with a daughter to marry off, had to find a dowry for me. "It will be no easy task," he said with a sigh. Baap was a scribe. He sat all day in his marketplace stall hoping to make a few rupees by writing letters for those who did not know how to write their own. His customers had little money. Often from the goodness of his heart Baap would write the letter for only a rupee or two. When I was a small girl, he would sometimes let me stand beside him. I watched as the spoken words were written down to become like caged birds, caught forever by my clever baap.

When they learned Maa and Baap were looking for a husband for me, my two brothers began to tease me. My older brother, Gopal, said, "Koly, when you have a husband, you will have to do as he tells you. You won't sit and daydream as you do now."

My younger brother, Ram, whom I always beat at card games, said, "When you play cards with your husband, you'll have to lose every time."

My brothers went to the boys' school in our village. Though there was a school for girls, I did not go there. I had begged to go, promising I would get up early and stay up late to do my work, but Maa said school was a waste for girls. "It will be of no use to you after you are married. The money for books and school fees is better put toward your dowry, so that we may find you a suitable husband."

When I stole looks into my brothers' books, I saw secrets in the characters I could not puzzle out. When I begged them to teach me the secrets, they laughed at me. Gopal complained, "I have to sit in a hot schoolroom all day and have my knuckles rapped if I look out the window. You are the lucky one."

Ram said, "When a girl learns to read, her hair falls out, her eyes cross, and no man will look at her."

Still, I turned over the pages of my brothers' books. When Maa sent me into the village for some errand, I lingered under the windows of the school to listen to the students saying their lessons aloud. But the lessons were not like measles. I did not catch them.

My maa had no use for books. When she was not taking care of the house, she spent her time embroidering. Like her maa before her, and her maa, and as far back as anyone could remember, the women in our family embroidered. All their thoughts and dreams went into their work. Maa embroidered the borders for saris sold in our marketplace. One sari might take many weeks, for a sari stretched all the way across the room. Because it took so long, each sari became a part of our lives. As soon as I could work with a needle, I was allowed to stitch simple designs. As I grew older, Maa gave me peacocks and ducks to embroider. When the border was finished, Maa took the sari to the marketplace. Then there would be rupees to spare in the house.

Now Maa sat with a length of red muslin for my wedding sari on her lap. Because he valued her work, the shopkeeper had sold the sari to Maa for a good price. She was embroidering a border of lotus flowers, a proper border for a wedding sari, because the lotus pod's many seeds are scattered to the wind, suggesting wealth and plenty.

Relatives and friends began to search for a bridegroom. A part of me hoped they would be successful and that someone wanted me. A part of me hoped that no one in the world would want me enough to take me away from my home and my maa and baap and brothers. I knew that after my marriage, I would have to make my home with the family of my husband. For my dowry I began to embroider a quilt, making all my worries stitches, and all the things I would have to leave behind pictures to take with me.

I embroidered my maa in her green sari and my baap on the bicycle that took him to the marketplace every morning. My brothers played at soccer with a ball they had fashioned from old rags. I added the feathery leaves of the tamarind tree that stood in the middle of our courtyard and our cow under its shade. I put in the sun that beat down on the courtyard and the clouds that gathered before the rains. I put myself at the courtyard well, where I was sent many times each day to get water. I stitched the marketplace stalls heaped with turmeric and cinnamon and cumin and mustard. I embroidered vegetable stalls with purple eggplants and green melons. I made the barber cutting hair, the dentist pulling teeth, the man who cleaned ears, and the man with the basket of cobras. Because I was kept busy at all my other tasks, the stitching took many weeks.

While I stitched, I wondered what my husband would be like. Stories were told of girls having to marry old men, but I did not think Maa and Baap would let that happen to me. In my daydreams I hoped for someone who was handsome and who would be kind to me.

My older brother said, "We're too poor to buy you a decent husband."

My younger brother said, "There is sure to be something wrong with anyone who agrees to marry you."

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Reading Group Guide


Homeless Bird, Gloria Whelan's moving look at Indian culture and one girl's struggle to find her place in it, provides a distinctly different perspective on growing up than the one we experience in the United States. Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married. But her excitement and hope turn to dread when she meets her husband, a sickly boy who is much younger than Koly and her family were led to believe. When her new husband dies, Koly must take on the only identity allowed her by society--that of a widow. Faced with a lifetime of subservience, poverty, and isolation, Koly realizes how alone she is. Yet this rare young woman, bewildered and brave, sets out to forge her own exceptional future. And a new life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly--one stitch at a time.

Questions For Discussion:

  1. Koly ends up in a series of unfortunate situations. Who can be blamed for her misfortune? Her parents? The Mehtas? Society? Koly herself? Or, do all these factors work together to influence her life? Is it possible to root out one cause for Koly's misfortune? Conversely, who can be credited for the good turn Koly's life eventually takes?
  2. In Koly's society in India, life is highly defined from beginning to end. How does this compare to life in the United States? Can you say the same for all the different groups in the United States (i.e. religious, ethnic, regional)?
  3. In India, young girls are expected to marry. How does this affect their families treatment of them? What do the families gain from a good marriage? How is Koly affected by this expectation to marry? Howwould your life be different if you were expected to marry in a few years?
  4. When Koly becomes a widow, she takes on a specific, rigidly defined role in society. What does being a widow mean for Koly? In what ways does this role restrict her? In what ways does it set her free?
  5. The ability to read takes on a great importance for Koly. Why is she originally kept from learning to read? Why does Sassur agree to teach her? What effect does it have on the rest of her life?
  6. Discuss the different bird images that are used throughout the book. What traits do birds have that make them particularly appropriate for Koly's story? Why does she relate to the homeless bird?
  7. Like all the women in her family, Koly learns to embroider quilts and saris. As she explains, "All [the women's] thoughts and dreams went into their work because it took so long, each sari became a part of our lives." Discuss the ways in which Koly's life and her embroidery become interwoven. Is there a way you express your thoughts and dreams about life, for example, through singing, participating in sports or writing?
  8. Does Koly believe that Sass will find happiness? Why or why not? Why do you think that Koly was able to find happiness at the end of the book? What makes Koly different from Sass in this respect? What does it mean to be truly wealthy?
  9. Animals become very important to Koly after she becomes a widow. What animals does she befriend while she is living with Mehtas? Why does she tame these various animals? Find examples of Koly making comparisons between animals and the people she meets. How do these examples fit with Koly's past experiences and with her perceptions of herself?
  10. Does Koly believe that Sass will find happiness? Why or why not? Why do you think that Koly was able to find happiness at the end of the book? What makes Koly different from Sass in this respect? What does it mean to be truly wealthy?
  11. Koly grew up in a very rural area, but environments differ? Which does Koly prefer? What might have happened to Koly if her Sass had not left her at Vrindavan?
  12. Who are Koly's true friends? Were there people she should have been able to depend on but couldn't?

About The Author:

Gloria Whelan is a poet and awarding who has written many books for young readers. One of these, Once On This Island, won the 1996 Great Lakes Book Award. She lives with her husband, Joseph, in the woods of northern Michigan.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 16 of 12 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2004


    This book is the most outstanding book i've ever read! I am 11 years old, and don't always read books. When i read this book, it got me to NEVER put it down. It was the only thing i wanted to do. I now want to visit India (where the book took place). This book gave me mixed emotions; i laughed, and i cried. It taught me about how one simple life of a girl can turn upside down, and become miserable. Later in the book her life comes back together....

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