• Kara Cushway

My Bookshelf: Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan

Updated: Jul 26, 2019

In the My Bookshelf series, I share posts on the blog about books that have made it onto my home bookshelves. I don’t usually purchase books until I’ve A) read them (almost always by borrowing them from the library first, and usually more than once already) and B) can see myself reading them again and again in the future. Some people don’t understand how I can reread books, but there are all different types of readers in this world, and I’m a re-reader. I love that you can pick up so much more from a book the second or third or tenth time around. Not only that, but we change in the time between the first reading and the subsequent readings, and it’s always a fun game for me to see what part of a book will make me cry this time around, when I was totally oblivious to that part the first time I read it. If you’re interested in other books from My Bookshelf, be sure to keep an eye out for those in upcoming posts.

The first time I read Homeless Bird was when my sister brought it home from 7th or 8th grade English class, where she and the rest of the class was forced to read it. I have to admit, I was a little jealous that her class got to read this book when I had to read things like When Zachary Beaver Came to Town. Ugh. (But as a side note, I think of Zachary Beaver every now and then, which I take to be a sign of good storytelling at the very least, even if the story’s premise was distasteful to me.) I read Homeless Bird over the course of a couple nights, snatching it from her backpack or her homework pile as soon as she got home so I could pick up where I left off. Then my mom read it, and I must admit, if my mom reads a book I’ve read and likes it, it usually ends up on the list of books I’m eternally fond of.

Homeless Bird follows young Koli, who, at barely thirteen years old, is married off to a sickly boy and, after a series of hardships, must figure out who she is when all she’s ever known is taken from her.

I LOVE this book for several reasons. Koli is quiet but can be silly and mischievous while still being incredibly determined and hardworking. This story showcases the beauty and the difficulties of life for a girl in India, and Koli is such an inspiring female main character to read about. I don’t know about you, but when I come across a main character that makes me want to be like her, she stays on my bookshelf forever.

I especially love (as you can imagine) the food scenes in this book. They’re so clean and simple, which allows the Hindi words to stand out from the English and gives each passage about food an exotic magic that I find irresistible.

“The ceremony was soon over, and the feasting began. A tali was brought out piled with boiled ducks’ eggs, crisply fried pooris, dal, rice, curries, chapatis, mango chutney, and many kinds of sweets.”

Doesn’t that make you want to eat? I want a crisply fried poori. (Never having eaten Indian food before, I had to Google what a poori is after I typed that word more than once. It’s fried flatbread. Now I really want some.)

Another magical element to this story is Koli’s skill at embroidering. I loved each passage’s descriptiveness and watching her stitches form colorful pictures.

“As I thought of the river, I remembered the heron. I began to stitch its long neck and its head with its sharp beak. I stitched the long dangling legs and the great wings.”

I’m not here to summarize the whole book, or even to convince you to read this book – but if you should want to, it’s such a pretty book and such a quick read that I don’t think you’ll regret it. And if you have a middle-grade reader in your vicinity, maybe they’d like to read it! I find that it’s a great introduction to a literary version of India, and I love it when books can whisk me away to another country.

What’s on your bookshelf at home? Have you ever read Homeless Bird? Do you have any favorite scenes from the book? I’d love to hear from you! Let’s talk about books, people!

Stay tuned for more posts in the My Bookshelf series! And if you'd love more books like Homeless Bird, check out 101 Books for Middle School Readers here.


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