The Clever Tailor is written by Srividhya Venka, illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath, and published by Karadi Tales.
Winner of both the Peek-a-book Children’s Choice Award in 2018 and the 2019 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Middle East/India/Asia region, the book is also shortlisted for the Neev Children’s Book Awards, 2019.
Recommended ages for self-reading:
Regular 5+, Advanced 7+
The Clever Tailor is an Indian adaptation of a traditional Jewish folk song. Popular in Jewish culture, there have been varied adaptations of the tale. Simms Taback’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is the most famous picture-book version of the story. It won the Caldecott Medal in 2000, awarded by the American Library Association for “the most distinguished American picture book for children in the previous year.” Other noteworthy versions are My Grandfather’s Coat and Something From Nothing.
In this version of The Clever Tailor, we embark on a journey through brightly coloured and vibrant Rajasthan.
Our protagonist, Rupa Ram, is a celebrated tailor. Though catering to rich families, he is not able to save enough money to stitch beautiful things for his own family.
One day, Rupa Ram receives a brand-new saafa (turban cloth) and is delighted! He wears his new turban everywhere until it wears out. However, he can’t bring himself to throw it away! Then, Rupa Ram realises there is just enough fine cloth for a beautiful odhni (dupatta) for his wife!
Once the odhni wears out, Rupa Ram decides to remake the cloth into a new kurta for his son. Next, the cloth turns into a gudiya (girl doll) for his daughter. Finally, the now very worn-out cloth turns into a beautiful gulaab (rose flower)! The last gulaab adorns the house until it too, eventually, runs its course.
A map-like drawing of each person’s story beautifully illustrates the journey of the cloth, as it breathes new life with every unique mould. We see the possibilities and importance of reusing an object creatively. It shows us how something can be loved and recreated in different ways.
The Clever Tailor ends with the gulaab turning into something special that never wears out! The story of one piece of cloth, that transforms into so many things! Rupa Ram tells the tale far and wide and it never loses its charm.
To kids of today, folktales can seem outdated, or just old. Modern retelling like this one help keep the genre alive. This version is on point- the repetitive nature of the story works to its benefit. Tiny details like Rupa Ram’s wife written as a school teacher add depth to the narrative.
Bonus: Check out this Storytelling & Read Aloud session of The Clever Tailor!
What did you think of The Clever Tailor? Comment and let us know!
Have you read our reviews of the other books on the Neev Awards 2019 Shortlist?
Also, check out the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Award list!
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