Written by Srividhya Venkat and illustrated by Nayantara Surendranath, The Clever Tailor (Amazon linkis published by Karadi Tales. It won the Peek-a-book Children’s Choice Award in 2018 and the 2019 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award for the Middle East/India/Asia region. It has been shortlisted for the Neev Children’s Book Award, 2019. Recommended age for self-reading: Regular 7+ | Advanced 5+.

The Clever Tailor is an Indian adaptation of a Jewish folk song. The most popular picture book version of this is Simms Taback’s Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999) which 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 versions of this book – My Grandfather’s Coat (2014) and Something From Nothing (1992).

The version under review, The Clever Tailor takes us on a journey through brightly coloured Rajasthan. Rupa Ram is a celebrated tailor who caters to the rich. But, try as he might, he is not able to save up enough money to stitch something beautiful for his own family.

When he receives a brand-new saafa (turban cloth) at a wedding, he is delighted! He wears it everywhere until it wears out. He is reluctant to throw away the beautiful material and realises that there is enough fine cloth left to make a beautiful odhni (dupatta) for his wife, which she wears everywhere! When the odhni runs its course, he re-purposes the cloth into a new kurta for his son. The cloth is then turned into a gudiya (girl doll) for his daughter and finally, it turns into a gulaab (lotus) which is placed around the house until it too, eventually, wears out. 

A map-like drawing of each person’s routine beautifully illustrates the journey of the cloth as it transforms from one object to another. This book stresses the importance of reusing an object in whatever way possible, by showing the different ways the same piece of cloth can be loved and used.

The Clever Tailor ends with the gulaab turning into something that will never wear out – the story of how the piece of cloth was transformed into different things! Rupa Ram tells this story 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To kids of today, folktales can seem outdated, or just old.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. The retelling is on point – the repetitive nature of the story works. Tiny details (E.g.: Rupa Ram’s wife is a school teacher) add depth to the narrative.

What did you think of the book? Comment and let us know! Have you read our reviews of the other books on the Neev award 2019 shortlist? Also, check out the Best of Indian Children’s Writing (BICW) – Contemporary Award list!

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