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Book Review

The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in the "Indian in the Cupboard" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Nine-year-old Omri lives in Great Britain with his mother, father and two brothers, Gillion and Adiel. For his birthday, Omri receives two notable presents: a plastic Indian figure from his friend Patrick and a metal cupboard from Gillion. Because the cupboard has a lock but no key, Omri's mother suggests looking through her box of keys. There, Omri discovers a key that fits the cupboard. That night, Omri locks the toy Indian inside the cupboard before going to bed.

In the morning, Omri discovers that the plastic Indian toy, Little Bear, has come alive. Intent on defending himself, Little Bear attacks Omri by stabbing him in the finger with his dagger. Omri assures Little Bear that he won't hurt him and only wants to pick him up. Before Omri can learn more about the Indian, he must leave for school, so he locks Little Bear in the cupboard again.

When Omri returns home, he discovers that Little Bear is plastic once again and wonders if he imagined the toy coming to life. Later that night, he hears a sound coming from the cupboard. When he opens the cupboard, a very real Little Bear demands that Omri bring him food, a longhouse, fire, tools and a gun.

Omri offers Little Bear a plastic teepee for the night, but the Indian insists on building a longhouse. Each day, Omri brings Little Bear food, water and supplies to build the longhouse. Using the cupboard, Omri makes a horse, ax, bow and arrows. When Omri brings another Indian figurine to life, the old Indian sees Omri and dies of fright.

Captivated by Little Bear, Omri ignores his friend Patrick, but his friend brings him the gift of a cowboy figure. Omri declines the gift, knowing Little Bear and the cowboy would fight. When Patrick questions his reasons, Omri reveals that the Indian is alive.

After Omri brings his friend home to prove that Little Bear is real, Patrick becomes jealous and asks Omri to make a figurine real for him. Omri refuses, since he senses Patrick can’t handle taking care of a real person. The two begin to fight and accidentally ruin Little Bear's dinner. When Omri leaves to find something else for Little Bear to eat, Patrick uses the cupboard to make the cowboy real.

The cowboy, Boone, shoots Patrick in the cheek, but the small bullet does little damage. Patrick is thrilled with Boone and wants to see how Boone and Little Bear will act with each other. Omri doesn't think it's a good idea.

Promising to bring Boone and Little Bear to school the next day, Omri convinces Patrick to leave Boone with him for the night. He separates the two figures before going to bed, but he wakes to find Boone and Little Bear in the middle of a shootout. Omri manages to stop the fight before either is hurt. Boone and Little Bear exchange insults and argue over breakfast but don't resume their violent fight.

At school, Omri gives Boone to Patrick. The boys keep their live figurines in their pockets during class. At lunch, Patrick insists on feeding both figurines. To avoid discovery of the figurines, Omri lets Patrick take Little Bear. But when Patrick gets into a fight and is pushed to the ground, Omri fears that Boone and Little Bear may be hurt or dead. Both men are shaken but unharmed.

Back in class, Omri is angry with Patrick and his thoughtless treatment of Boone and Little Bear. The teacher catches them talking and sends them to the headmaster's office. When the headmaster begins to question them, Patrick is intimidated. Omri tries to keep Patrick from revealing Boone and Little Bear, but the headmaster kicks him out of the office. Alone with the headmaster, Patrick tells him about the toys. The headmaster sends the boys back to class and goes home, looking shaken by Patrick's revelation. Omri takes Boone and Little Bear from Patrick before returning to class.

After school, Omri stops at the toy store to buy a female Indian to be Little Bear's wife. The toy store owner sees Omri put Boone and Little Bear in his pocket and thinks he is trying to steal, but Patrick arrives and vouches for his friend. The two boys reconcile and return to Omri's house for a sleepover.

At home, the boys discover the cupboard is gone. Adiel, who blamed Omri for stealing his gym shorts, hid the cupboard. Once the boys find the shorts, Adiel reveals he hid the cupboard in the attic. Omri and Patrick find the cupboard, but the magic won't work because the key is missing.

Giving up their unsuccessful search for the key, the boys turn on a Western movie showing settlers and Indians fighting. Upset by the sight of so many Indians dying, Little Bear shoots an arrow into Boone's chest. Afterward, he feels guilty for his actions and helps remove the arrow.

The boys do what they can to clean and bandage the wound, which is bleeding heavily. They keep watch over Boone during the night. While he's watching Boone, Omri realizes that the key has fallen beneath the floorboards. The boys pull up a loose floorboard, send Little Bear down to retrieve the key and then use the cupboard to bring Tommy, an Army medic, to life. Tommy provides medicine to help Boone heal.

At Little Bear’s request, Omri makes the female Indian real, and Bright Star and Little Bear marry. Omri realizes he can't keep the living toys, so he and Patrick turn all three back into plastic. Omri gives the key to his mother for safekeeping, and decides that knowing he could make a figurine real is enough magic for him.

Christian Beliefs

Tommy believes that he will go to heaven when he dies.

Other Belief Systems

Little Bear believes in magic and spirits. He calls Omri the Great White Spirit, prays to his ancestors and believes the Iroquois spirits will be angry if he sleeps in an Algonquin-made teepee. When Omri sees that Little Bear has become real, he believes the cupboard and the key are magic.

Authority Roles

When Omri takes supplies from his father's greenhouse, his father is patient. He is willing to talk to Omri about the situation but also addresses the fact that taking the supplies without asking is wrong. Both parents make a point to have family meals, and both are concerned when Omri seems to be ill. Omri's mother spends time telling him about his great-grandmother and makes sure Omri is ready for school. Mr. Johnson, the headmaster, intimidates Patrick and reminds Patrick of his own father, who apparently is a harsh man.


Little Bear is proud of being a warrior and brags about scalping at least 30 Frenchmen. God's name is taken in vain once. Other mild language includes jiggered, blooming, twit, stupid, dawggone, heck, gol-darned, tarnation, red varmint, stinking, danged, shut up and dirty savage.


Omri wonders if Little Bear and Bright Star will have babies.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Boone refuses to drink water and insists that Omri bring him alcohol. Omri gets the alcohol from his parents' liquor cabinet.

Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for The Indian in the Cupboard.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 10


Lynne Reid Banks






Record Label



Doubleday and Company, a division of Random House


On Video

Year Published



Pacific Northwest Young Readers Choice Award, 1984; California Young Readers Medal, 1985


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