The Indian in the Cupboard
By Lynne Reid Banks
J. M. Dent (UK) & Doubleday and Company (US), 1980

This is a newer classic of children's fantasy in the vein of Edward Eager, with a small, unique form of magic appearing and requiring careful experimentation to master, presenting occasional ethical dilemmas along the way.

Omri gets a small cupboard for his birthday, and discovers that when a toy is locked in it it will come to life. The first toy animated is a small plastic Indian, Little Bear, who turns out to be a good bit of trouble. Omri has to deal with Little Bear's demands, the challenges of hiding him from the rest of the world (including two nosy brothers), and the unwise actions of his best friend, who wants a little person of his own.

The primary problem is that the toys are not simply coming to life à la Toy Story, but appear to be bringing historical people forward in time. While the exact mechanics of this are not fully explored, Omri is fairly certain that this is something akin to kidnapping, and is very much pro returning the figures to their original state; his friend Patrick is very much of the opposite opinion, and would much rather animate entire armies and watch them fight.

This is a well-written and engaging book, and it has aged well. Rereading it as an adult, I was somewhat surprised at the amount of British vocabulary that most American kids would not have been exposed to; this is a good thing, but between this and the ten-year-old recommended reading level, I think I would consider this a strong contender for a read-aloud for ages 6-9 rather than saving it for middle school.

This series continues with The Return of the Indian.


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