Author Jacqueline Woodson described this book as “not a heartbreaking story, even if there are moments that break the heart.” This is absolutely true and one of the reasons I would consider this as a read-aloud selection in 3rd or 4th grade.
It tells the story of an 11yr old boy in India whose family has lost their farm and travels to Mumbai looking for jobs that will help sustain them as well as provide education for their children.
Gopal, thinking he has found a job to earn money for his family is instead abducted and locked in a house with 5 other boys. They are forced to make beaded frames and are fed very little and beaten for any behavior their slave owner decides requires it.
The cruelty is very clearly described without being as graphic as, for example, the story of Iqbal. Also, the end of Gopal’s story is a happy one, seeing him reunited with his family. For younger readers this is an appropriate choice: the book having introduced them to an important injustice does not then put them in a position of feeling hopeless about it.
It’s an extraordinary story, well-written and plotted. It provides much material for discussion and could easily be a springboard for learning about a variety of child labor, Indian social strata, farming economics, etc.