Classroom Connections is a series meant to introduce teachers to new books.
CHAINED – Lynne Kelly
Lynne Kelly has written a story that unwraps the heart and asks it to be brave, loyal, and above all, kind. Readers of all ages will worry for Hastin as he marks the wall that records his bondage to a cruel master, but they will ultimately celebrate his jubilant triumph. This story unwrapped my own heart. –Kathi Appelt, author of the Newbery Honor and New York Times bestseller THE UNDERNEATH
reading level: 10 and up
setting: Northern India
Please tell us about your book.
CHAINED is a midgrade novel about 10-year-old Hastin, who lives in a rural village of northern India with his mother and sister. To help pay off the hospital bills from his sister’s illness, Hastin takes a job as an elephant keeper at a run-down circus far from home. Life at the circus isn’t the adventure he expected, but he and the elephant, Nandita, become best friends. They’re both captive workers for the cruel circus owner and elephant trainer, and Hastin wants he and Nandita to escape and return to their homes, even if it means saying goodbye to each other.
What inspired you to write this story?
I’ve always loved elephants, but I got the idea for CHAINED when I was at a presentation and heard the tale “Don’t Be Like The Elephant,” about how a small rope or chain can hold a full-grown elephant because once they give up trying to break free, they never try again. It’s meant to be an example of learned helplessness or self-limiting behavior, but I got the idea then to write a picture book about a captive elephant. I didn’t know at the time it would grow into the novel that it is now.
Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?
I read all I could online and in books about India, and corresponded with or talked to people who’d lived there. For example, when I came across an article about homes in parts of India where poverty is high, I emailed the reporter to find out about what kind of house Hastin would live in.
One of the most interesting things I learned was that India itself is so diverse—if I read about a folk tale I wanted to use in the story, I had to find out first if it was a tale that would be told in the northern part of the country where CHAINED takes place. Same thing with the food and names—I’d choose a character name or a favorite food that I’d later find out isn’t found in that region. That’s the kind of information that was hard to get just by reading; it took talking to people from India to find out about the regionally appropriate stories, foods, names, etc. With all its languages, traditions, and customs, India seems in some ways like many different countries in one.
I knew more about elephants since I’ve always been interested in them, but I still had to do more research to make sure the behavior of Nandita and the other elephants in the herd was accurate. Again I did a lot of reading (and recorded every elephant show I could find on Animal Planet), and also talked to experts who’ve worked with elephants. Once in a while our zoo has an elephant open house event, so I’ve gone to those a few times so I can see the elephants up close and ask questions of the keepers.
What are some special challenges associated with introducing a setting your audience might be unfamiliar with?
Writing the story in a way that would be clear to readers not familiar with the setting and culture, but not annoying or over-explained for those who are familiar with India.
What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?
The setting – the desert and forest regions of northern India
Indian culture, although India itself is very diverse
Child laborers in India
Elephant behavior, communication, and habitat
And math too! Students can figure out how much time Hastin has left in his year-long service at the circus, and how large a circle Nandita wears into the ground given a certain length of chain, for examples.
Thank you, Lynne, for joining us today! Be sure to stop by Lynne Kelly’s blog and website to learn more.