Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard (New York: Avon Books, 1980, 181 pages) is a book that is fun to read. The story is told through the eyes of the main character, Omri. Omri is a boy about ten years old who lives in England. For his birthday Omri receives a skateboard from his parents, a helmet from one brother, a cupboard from another brother, and a plastic toy Indian from his best friend, Patrick. At first he is disappointed in the gift his friend has given but quickly learns that it is the best gift of all.
Omri is not a tidy, neat boy, his toys are not often put away and are scattered throughout his room. However, the cupboard his brother gives him thrills him. He loves cupboards and likes to put things in them. This cupboard has a lock, but there is no key. Omri’s mother gives him a box of keys that she has collected over the years. In it he finds a key that locks the cabinet. He puts the plastic Indian inside the cupboard, locks the door and gets ready for bed. The next morning Omri hears a noise coming from the cupboard.
He unlocks the door and discovers the toy Indian is gone. Instead, he finds a live Indian who is the same size as the toy had been. The Indian’s name is Little Bear. Omri’s adventures have just begun. Throughout the book Omri deals with Little Bear who is very demanding. Omri feeds him. This turns out to be more difficult than might be expected because of Little Bear’s size. A single kernel of corn is bigger than Little Bear’s hand and a piece of meat the would be a regular sized bite for Omri was about a third the size of Little Bear.
At school Omri accidentally tells Patrick about the Indian. Patrick does not believe at first, but when he sees the Indian for himself he believes and naturally wants one of his own. The two boys end up bringing to life a cowboy named “Boone,” two horses, a World War I medic when Little Bear shoots Boone, and a young bride for Little Bear. Conflict comes to Omri on all sides. He feels that they should keep the Little Bear and Boone a secret, but Patrick has trouble not telling. Omri’s older brother’s pet rat escapes and is a threat to kill the tiny people.
Another brother hides the cupboard because he is mad at Omri and the key is lost. Little Bear is demanding. He is a chief and expects to be obeyed. He demands Omri take him to school so he can learn. Naturally Patrick wants to take Boone. Naturally they get in trouble at school and the live toys are nearly discovered. The most difficult conflict comes from within Omri. Although he enjoys playing with Little Bear he feels confused about that he should do. He struggles with this. He thinks that somehow it is not right for him to use live people as his toy.
They each had histories and lives that they should be living, not just being a toy for a little English Boy. Ultimately he decides they should be returned to they own life and time. The book makes an important point. As long as Omri thought of Little Bear as a plastic Indian toy he was able to treat him like a possession and could do what he wanted with him. When he realizes Little Bear is a person, he is no longer happy keeping Little Bear as a toy. In the everyday world people do the same thing.
As long as someone thinks of another person as being a member of a group and not as an individual it is possible to be prejudiced against him. Once he learns the other person is an individual with a real life, it becomes more difficult to be prejudiced. This is a good lesson for everyone. The Indian in the Cupboard is a very good book, written on approximately a sixth grade level. It would also be an excellent book to read to younger children. The Indian in the Cupboard is a classic and should be read by all students and their parents. It is a book that many students will enjoy reading again and again.