CLUMSY!

CLUMSY!

I must confess there’s a certain delight in reviewing a book called Clumsy! written by an author whose last name is Spillman! The prolific Australian writer is becoming well-known to Indian audiences, having authored both Radhika Takes the Plunge (Young Zubaan) and Advaita the Writer, also published by Tulika. I’m a fan of both of these chapter books, but Clumsy! is my first encounter with Ken Spillman in the context of a picture book. I must confess I’m equally charmed.

The story is simply narrated, but profound. A small girl finds that she has a tendency to make things “wobble, tumble and shatter”, earning her labels and insults which range from “clumsy” to “butterfingers”. Yet, when she manages to crowd out the negative affirmations, she finds great solace in words which she can use to conjure up pictures and stories. These stories become even more real when she’s given a palette of colours, and can create paintings for herself, proudly signing her name on each.

Perhaps I find this story so moving as it taps into memories of my own schooldays. As a child whose limbs always seemed to be too large for my body, I was no stranger to breaking/spilling/knocking things over. In fact, I vividly remember the mortification of being told by my mother that ballet lessons were stopping, after she saw how much I looked like a ‘baby elephant’ in the annual production. Though haven’t we all experienced the burden of carrying around an unwanted label? And wouldn’t we all hope that our own children could exist without them?

In fact, anyone who has ever found solace in an imaginative word – whether one of words or pictures – should find much to relate to here. Spillman has captured the ability of art to move us and transport us to new places: “She liked to look at pictures for a very long time. They would make her want to sing, sometimes cry.” Also evident is the ability of art to help us visualise alternative realities, and perhaps even help them come true: “With the brush in her hand, she could see herself spinning on the tips of her toes without falling, drinking her milk without spilling…”

The illustrations are an excellent fit. Chakravarti seems to be just the right artist for this story – her watercolours beautifully capture the feelings and expressions of the child, while also managing to evoke a strong sense of place. The design, too, is simple yet effective. Bold typeface accentuates the labels that adults attach to our young protagonist (Slowcoach! Careless! Sloppy! Messy!), while later a stream of positive words flows whimsically across the page.

The book reminds me of something someone rather wise once told me about the dangers of labels. People might do things that are ‘clumsy’ or ‘messy’, but it doesn’t give us the right to define them that way. This seems even more relevant for children, who have the potential to internalise and be stigmatised by the labels we sometimes unknowingly foist upon them. The fact that we never find out the child’s real name (despite me trying to decipher the squiggles which she uses to sign her pictures!) is a powerful reinforcement of this message. I hope this book reaches as many children as it deserves to.

By Maegan Dobson Sippy

Author: Ken Spillman
Illustrator: Manjari Chakravarti
English
28 pages
Rs 150.00
ISBN: 978-93-5046-739-8
Tulika Publishers, 2016
Subject Category: Contemporary/Fiction/Picture Book
Age-group: 5+

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

cropped-GOODBOOKS-LOGO-SQUARE.png

“For a teacher or librarian faced with dozens of books to read, a good book review website is as essential as maps are for geographers.”

Anil Menon - Writer
cropped-GOODBOOKS-LOGO-SQUARE.png

“Indian children’s books rarely get the kind of publicity they deserve in the popular or social media. Websites like Goodbooks plug the gap by not letting a single Indian children’s book of merit slip through the cracks. Most people would not even know about the books available in the market if not for a resource like this.”

cropped-GOODBOOKS-LOGO-SQUARE.png

“Book review sites like Goodbooks are a wonderful resource for locating theme-based or issue-based children’s books to enrich the learning experience in the classroom and at home.”

Asha Nehemiah - Children's Writer
Phone: +91 44 TBA
Alwarpet, Chennai – 600018 INDIA
305, Manickam Avenue, TTK Road,