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Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman

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Born Behind Bars

Kabir has known only one home, the jail in Chennai, India, in which he was born to his incarcerated mother, called Amma. Kabir and Amma, who is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit, are members of the low-caste and are too poor to afford a lawyer. So they have no recourse to justice. Now that Kabir is 9 years old, he is forced to leave the jail because he is considered too old to stay there, but Mama remains imprisoned. 

When the prison warden arranges for a man who claims to be Kabir’s uncle to take the boy into his home, Kabir feels less frightened, though terribly sad to leave Amma. Kabir hopes his uncle will be able to give some clues as to the whereabouts of Kabir’s father, who hasn’t been heard from in a long time. But all is not as it appears. Kabir soon faces grave danger. He gathers his courage and makes a life-changing escape, finding himself on the street. When a streetwise girl named Rani offers Kabir her company and survival skills, the two become friends. They set out on a quest for a place to call home and for justice for Amma in a world that seems blind to corruption, inequity, and exploitation. Along the way, the two street kids encounter unexpected kindness and direction from adults who understand their plight and do all in their power to assist them. 

In an age-sensitive way, author Padma Venkatraman introduces middle school readers to the tragic reality that children and adults around the world are incarcerated unjustly due to their race, social status, and income level. Readers also encounter Hindu and Muslim spiritual beliefs—Kabir’s father is Muslim and his mother is Hindu—and the tensions that religious differences cause in families and nations. (Nancy Paulsen Books)

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