Cover image for Homeless bird
Homeless bird
Whelan, Gloria.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HarperCollinsPublishers, 2000.
Physical Description:
216 pages ; 19 cm
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.
Reading Level:
800 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 5.3 5.0 35670.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 6.1 10 Quiz: 21537 Guided reading level: X.
Geographic Term:


Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Young Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
FICTION Young Adult Fiction Young Adult
X Young Adult Fiction Young Adult

On Order



Leaving Home...forever. Like many girls her age in India, thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married. When she discovers that the husband her parents have chosen for her is sickly boy with wicked parents, Koly wishes she could flee. According to tradition, though, she has no choice. On her wedding day, Koly's fate is sealed.In the wake of her marriage, however, Koly's life takes an unexpected turn, and she finds herself alone in a strange city of white-sari-clad windows. Her only choice seems to be to shed her name and her future and join the hopeless hordes who chant for food.Even then, cast out in a current of time-worn tradition, this rare young woman sets out to forge her own exceptional future. And a life, like a beautiful tapestry, comes together for Koly-- one stitch at a time.Books for the Teen Age 2001 (NYPL) and 2000 National Book Award Winner

Author Notes

Gloria Whelan was born on November 23, 1923 in Detroit, Michigan. She took a strong interest in reading early in life when she was bedridden for a year with rheumatic fever. She dictated stories to her sister who would then type them. She then went on to writing poetry and later editing her high school newspaper. She attended the University of Michigan and earned her and M.S.W. degree. She began working as a social worker in Minneapolis and Detroit. She soon became tired of Detroit's hectic pace and moved to a cabin in northern Michigan.This peace was disrupted by an oil company 's desire to drill on her property. Because she did not own the mineral rights, the drilling proceeded. This experience inspired Gloria Whelan to write her children's novel, A Clearing in the Forest in 1978, which was about a boy working on an oilrig. Gloria Whelan has written several works of fiction for children and adults, many set in rural Michigan. She has also written stories set in exotic places like China and India. She won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2000 for Homeless Bird - the story of a young woman in India abandoned by her mother-in-law.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 6^-9. Thirteen-year-old Koly is getting married, not uncommon for girls her age in India. Although apprehensive, she knows this will lessen the financial burden on her family, and hopes for the best. Unfortunately, her husband is younger than promised, and sickly. Soon she is a homeless widow, deprived of her pension and abandoned by her selfish mother-in-law. She finds unexpected support in a widow's home, self-sufficiency in her gift of embroidery, and, ultimately, love and a new, rewarding life. This beautifully told, inspiring story takes readers on a fascinating journey through modern India and the universal intricacies of a young woman's heart. Whelan's lyrical, poetic prose, interwoven with Hindi words and terms, eloquently conveys Koly's tragedies and triumphs, while providing a descriptive, well-researched introduction to India's customs, peoples, and daily life. Koly is an appealing, admirable character, portrayed with sympathy and depth, who learns that art, heart, dreams, and perseverance can bring unexpected joy. Hindi terms are defined in an extensive glossary at book's end. An insightful, beautifully written, culturally illuminating tale of universal feelings in which riches are measured not in monetary wealth but in happiness and personal fulfillment. --Shelle Rosenfeld

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Homeless Bird Chapter One "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." Homeless Bird . Copyright © by Gloria Whelan. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.