‘Chained’ by Lynne Kelly: a fabulous middle grade book for animal lovers

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Rating: 5 stars

“Chained” by Lynne Kelly is a book about a boy and an elephant. For most animal lovers, this information is enough to make them run out and buy it. But it’s also a book about humanity, about kindness, and about cruelty.

The setting is a poor village in India. Hastin, the main character, is only ten years old. He lives with his mother and sister. His father died and his mother works to support them. When his sister gets sick, his mother must take her to the hospital.

The bill is a huge amount of money. To pay it, his mother goes to work for a wealthy family. When Hastin visits her and sees her bruised and mistreated, he is desperate to find a way to make money and get his mother out of that situation.

A man offers to pay off the hospital debt if he will work for his circus for one year. The man is going to be training an elephant and needs a boy to care for the elephant. Hastin accepts the job.

The job is not what Hastin expected. For any minor infraction, Timir, the cruel owner, adds three months to Hastin’s servitude. Soon, it appears that Hastin will never be able to leave.

There is also the matter of trapping a young elephant. The story hints that the action is illegal. (It would be great during a read aloud to see if readers get that inference.) Nandita, as Hastin names the young elephant they trap, is dependent on Hastin.

The characters in the story are all well drawn and would be good fodder for classroom discussion of character traits. Hastin faces many problems and makes mistakes — also good for discussion about how no hero is perfect.

This book would be a great read aloud for the third, fourth, or fifth grade classroom. Although child labor laws exist in India, they are frequently flouted, especially in rural areas. There are also elephant protection laws, but those also are ignored when it’s profitable to do so.

A great project in conjunction with this story would be for the students to do some research about countries where elephants live and how they are protected (or not). Also, how do child labor issues affect other countries?

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Macmillan/FSG, for review purposes.