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Omri, a young boy growing up in Brooklyn, receives an odd variety of presents for his birthday: a wooden cupboard from his older brother, a set of antique keys from his mother, Jane, and a plastic Indian from his best friend, Patrick. Putting them all together, Omri locks the Indian in the cupboard, only to be awoken by a strange sound in the middle of the night. He opens the cupboard to discover that the Indian has come to life; it seems that he's called Little Bear (Litefoot), and he claims to have learned English from settlers in 1761. Omri hides this remarkable discovery from Jane but shares it with Patrick as an experiment. Patrick locks a plastic cowboy in the cupboard, and soon Little Bear has a companion named Boone, though predictably, they don't get along well at first. Omri comes to the realizations that his living and breathing playthings are also people with lives of their own, and he begins to wonder how much control he should really have over their lives.