The Clever Tailor, says the publisher, is adapted from a European folktale, which author Srividhya Venkat has set in a light-hearted and vividly illustrated Indian context.

  • Title: The Clever Tailor
  • Author: Srividhya Venkat
  • Illustrator: Nayantara Surendranath
  • Reading level: From 4 years (according to the author on her Facebook page)
  • Date published: Exact date not specified, 2018
  • Publisher: Karadi Tales Company
  • Country: India
  • Country printed in: India
  • Printing: Not specified
  • This book bought from Zakatha, the online Indian kids book store in Singapore

The story is: despite universal praise for his work, the tailor Rupa Ram never had enough money to buy the “best cloth available and stitch something special” for his own family. That changed when he was gifted a new saafa, a long cloth folded into a turban. After he had worn out the turban, Rupa Ram found enough in the cloth to make other items of clothing for his wife, son and daughter.

3 things:

1. Attention grabber

Most traditional folktales, be they European or from other cultures, typically originate as oral storytelling, so they had to very quickly capture the attention of listeners. The Clever Tailor does the same in print–it jumps right in, with the central point of contention or motivation presented very early in the second page spread and the forward story starting directly after. This is great if you want to grab a four-year-old’s attention, and also gives the author a lot more book space to develop the story. This structuring shows a level of skill and proficiency on the part of the author and/or editor. This is further seen in the repetition of concepts and phrases, which is great for young readers.

2. Message

Also typical of folktales is that the story is not so much character-driven as it is moral/message-driven. (BTW – Rupa Ram is the only person named in the whole story.) The surface-level message we can easily pass on to the contemporary young reader is one of recycling – Rupa Ram doesn’t just throw out the whole cloth after he had worn it out as a turban but instead made use of the good bits for all his family. BUT we’re not told what he did with the worn out parts of the cloth. That would have definitely strengthened the story’s recycling message.

“Real” life beyond the book?: Of course, if you want to go beyond the surface, the story also allows room for socioeconomic commentary. India is the world’s leading cotton producer and its textile industry is the country’s second largest employer after agriculture, providing work for around 60 million people. But, like Rupa Ram, most of those employed “had stitched clothes for thousands of people, but not once for [their] own family”. For all the visual luxury giving life to the story, the bottom line is that a poor family like Rupa Ram’s is not atypical.

3. Illustration

What made me immediately grab this book was its illustration, straight from the cover. A lot of kids will stop to look around the pages at the details of the images, and this book has those in spades. Nayantara Surendranath’s vibrant illustrations really build on the text and is a great introducer to scenes of Rupa Ram’s family and local community. She’s drawn in so much culture-specific visuals and motifs that you could create many new stories from the images themselves. It’s a visual treat for sure.