Sneaky snails and a great trickster tale

posted in: Jagdish Chitara, Nathan Kumar Scott | 11

Do you have a trickster, a joker in you family? Someone who enjoys being a little bit devious? Well, The Great Race by Nathan Kumar Scott and Jagdish Chitara might just be the next book you could read with them.

Within a few pages M realised that The Great Race is a story not unlike Aesop’s The Hare and the Tortoise. This time, however, the race is between Kanchil, a mouse deer and the fastest animal in the forest, and Pelan, a snail. Whilst you can probably guess who doesn’t win the race, the means by which the forest is taken by surprise is likely to be new to you; we certainly didn’t see it coming, making the story all the more delicious for its clever twist.

Based on an Indonesian trickster tale, the story is a very satisfying read, but what really makes this book stand out are the intricate illustrations. The illustrator, Jagdish Chitara, is a member of the Waghari community in Gujarat (India) whose traditional art is painted on fabric, to create ritual cloths.

Part of a ritual cloth. Source:

Chitara was first spotted by Tara Books selling his textile art on a pavement in Ahmedabad. Wowed by what they saw, and with a desire to see artists like Chitara performing more than a traditional or cast function, they worked with him to create this book. Although I’ve not been fortunate to see such ritual cloths in real life, I feel Chitara’s transition from a textile artist to a book artist has worked amazingly well. The book blends tradition (the style of the images, the colour scheme) with modernity (the design, the pace) and creates something unusual, fresh and exciting.

A funny, beautifully produced book, bringing to your home a part of the world you may well have never seen before, The Great Race is an eye opener in more ways than one.

Pelan the snail © Jagdish Chitara
Inspired by Pelan’s spiral snail shell, the highly decorative nature of the illustrations and the association with fabric design, we decided we’d make something for the home: spiral cushions and a hula-hoop rug.

For each cushion you’ll need one old pair of tights (preferably stripy!), a bag of toy stuffing, and a needle and thread. We found tights for 6-8 year olds were the right length to make a cushion for a kitchen chair, and to make the sewing easier for little hands we used a tapestry needle (with a fairly large eye) and thread.

First the kids stuffed their tights.

Then we made them in to a spiral, which we held in place with safety pins. We tucked the final toe end into the top opening of the tights, with just a bit of folding over to make it neat-ish.

M then used a whip stitch to join the curves together and close the hole where the toe was tucked into the opening of the tights. Once everything was sewn on one side we took out the safety pins and started enjoying sitting on our new cushions.

For the rug we followed this tutorial from Spoonful, making use t-shirts the girls have out grown.

To make the weaving easier I suspended the hoop at chest/head height.

The finished rug is thick and substantial.

And it certainly brightens up the girls’ room!

Whilst we stuffed, sewed and wove we listened to:

  • Snail Song by The Sippy Cups
  • I Have a Pet Snail by Bill Crosby
  • The Tortoise and the Hare by Paul Austin Kelly

  • Other activities which might work well along side reading The Great Race include:

  • Making snails out of doughnuts as we did here.
  • Painting fabric with kids – I particularly like this post from Filth Wizardry.
  • Trying out some block printing with the kids to create personalised stationary or fabric. A simple way to start is by using corks and buttons as in this tutorial from Martha Stewart. If you want to buy blocks you can join me in drooling over the offerings of

  • Do you have a favourite trickster tale?

    Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Great Race from Tara Books. I was under no obligation to review the book and I received no money for this post.

    11 Responses

      • Zoe

        Hi Cerys, yes, with one fell swoop we were able to recycle lots of old clothes! Always satisfying 🙂

    1. Sam

      Wow! I love these – you’re so clever. I have some stripy tights here so I might try to get hold of some stuffing to get this together. Holly would love this activity. And the book looks gorgeous. I love Indian artwork and its intricacy.
      Sam recently posted..An apology for being wordless…

      • Zoe

        Hi Sam, Yes my M loved both the sewing and the weaving. What was nice with the weaving is that at any given point the length of the material she was weaving was always manageable because it was just one strip of t-shirt. It took a bit of time to prepare (cutting up the t-shirts is probably a parent job in the evening whilst listening to something nice on the radio!) but worth the effort.

    2. choxbox

      Lovely Zoe.

      Oh the things you think up! You bring out aspects of a book that would never have occured to me!

      And I have grown up with a lot of such prints – I am originally from Gujarat you see (though I’ve never really lived there).

    3. Missy

      While doing laundry today we found a pair of tights with holes in the toes, so we decided they would make a good cushion 🙂 My 9 year old loves sewing and she is excited to try this! She also wants to make the t-shirt rug. Thanks for the great ideas!

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