About the Book

Book Summary

About the Author

Discussion Topics

Activities

Suggested Snacks

Homeless Bird

About the Book

Published in 2000 by HarperCollins, Gloria Whelan's novel Homeless Bird has earned numerous awards, including the prestigious National Book Award. Available in hardcover, paperback, large print, and audiobook, the book is about 200 pages long. It is appropriate for Independent readers.

Book Summary

Thirteen-year-old Koly, a talented embroidery artist in modern-day India, must leave her struggling family, carrying only the precious silver earrings her mother gave her as a dowry, to marry a man she has never met. Soon after the awkward wedding, she learns that her new husband, Hari, is a sick boy and that his parents married him off in order to get her dowry for his medical expenses. Realizing that she may not be welcome in the family after Hari's inevitable death, Koly has to learn how to survive on her own within the limits of Indian society.

About the Author

Gloria Whelan is a critically acclaimed writer of poetry, short stories, and novels for children and young adults. She is the author of The Indian School, Miranda's Last Stand, and the beloved Island Trilogy: Once on This Island, Farewell to the Island, and Return to the Island. Whelan often uses for her settings the woods in northern Michigan where she lives with her husband, Joseph.

Discussion Topics

Since Homeless Bird is set in India, readers will need some understanding of the culture. You might want to start by asking what your book club participants know about India. Then you can provide background information from the following websites:

  • Some facts about India from Gloria Whelan's website
  • A photographic exhibit about Indian widows
  • White Rainbow, a film about Indian widows

Here are some questions the book club discussion leader can use to get participants talking about the novel.

  • What kinds of changes come to the village and to the family when the leather factory closes?
  • How does Hinduism affect family life in India?
  • What kind of person is Koly? Does she control her future? Does her level of control change in the course of the novel?
  • What kind of picture of marriage is painted in this novel? How does the novel depict the expectations of Indian girls with relation to work, their role in the family, and marriage?
  • How does Hari's family betray Koly?
  • What is your opinion of arranged marriages like those in India? Why do you think Indians might use this system?
  • How does the novel depict Indian society's treatment of widows?
  • How do you feel about Koly's sister-in-law, Chandra? In what way does she betray Koly by using her widow's pension? Why doesn't she help Koly after Chandra is married and moves away?
  • How does Koly learn to read? What comfort does it give her?
  • How does Koly use her embroidery talents to save herself?
  • Why does Koly disobey Maa Kamala, the one woman who has helped her?
  • Why do you think Koly hesitates when Raji proposes? Is her hesitation realistic given her situation and Koly's past actions?
  • What does Koly value most by the end of the book?
  • What do you predict for Koly's future?
  • In what ways are you similar to Koly?

You can find other discussion questions in HarperCollins's official book discussion guide to Homeless Bird.

Activities

If your book club wants to spend more time with Homeless Bird after reading and discussing it, consider the following extension activities:

  • This beautifully written book offers a wealth of language from which readers can create their own Found Poems.
  • Koly makes several quilts to represent people and places she wants to remember. Book clubbers can make a quilt with old linen or paper depicting moments from Homeless Bird. Scholastic's book guide offers a process for making such a quilt.
  • Participants may be interested in reading other books about India and Indian culture.

Suggested Snacks

Koly spends a great deal of time preparing food for her sass (mother-in-law) and sassur (father-in-law). Your book club may enjoy some of the traditional Indian foods mentioned in the book.

Beverages:  lassi or shikanji

Breads:  chapati or poori

Appetizer:  samosas

Entreé:  potatoes with cumin

Condiment:  mango chutney


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