Born Behind Bars

born behind bars by padma Venkatraman

Survival.  Kabir and his mother live in a prison in India.  When he walks to the schoolroom, he hears sounds no child should ever have to hear.  The guards are fierce and the rules are strict.  The power goes out and the water goes away.  Kabir's mother was a maid, a lower caste maid, and when an expensive necklace went missing from the home where she worked, she was accused, found guilty and thrown into jail.  Case dismissed.  She was powerless to fight for herself.

Her son Kabir is growing up behind bars with his mother.   Then, the day comes when he learns he can no longer stay in the jail. No longer stay with his mother and the other women he has come to know.  Kabir is going to be taken to an uncle he has never seen before. His teacher crams all she can into his head about how to survive in the world outside the walls of the jail.  Then, suddenly, Kabir is free.  He is being taken to his uncle - someone in his family.  The world is about to open for him.

Except.... except it doesn't.  The man who claims to be his uncle is actually selling Kabir.  Selling him.  But armed with his teacher's words, Kabir runs for his life and finds himself on the streets.

How many children are running the streets of India? What dangers lurk there?  How can they feed themselves, put a roof over their heads, find safety?

For Kadir friendship comes when a young woman named Rani sees him running for his life and re-directs his pursuer in the wrong direction.

Where is home?  Where is his family? What lies ahead for a boy fresh from jail and a girl with a parrot and a gift for telling futures?

As we go about our days, sometimes we need to be reminded that not everyone has our good fortune. Not everyone has justice.  Not everyone is treated with respect.  Not every child has a place to call home.

This is a story about finding where you belong, the wonder of family, and the desperation of so many children on the streets of India.  Here's our chance to walk in someone else's shoes, to be grateful for our good fortune, and perhaps to ask the question, "How can we help?"

272 pages 978-0593112472 Ages 10-13

Keywords: prison, survival, betrayal, family, diversity, diverse books, South Asia, South Asian American author, homelessness, friends, friendship, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, acceptance, accepting others, prejudice, discrimination

Recommended by:  Barb Langridge,


The author of the award-winning The Bridge Home brings readers another gripping novel set in Chennai, India, featuring a boy who's unexpectedly released into the world after spending his whole life in jail with his mom.

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn't commit. He's never met his dad, so the only family he's got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost "uncle" who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can--run away as fast as his legs will take him.

How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard--and fraught with danger--in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of--but he's discovered he's not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he--and his mother--deserve a place in it.---from the publisher

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