Just slightly over six, Saarth Khanna Sohum has already earned an accolade for being a storyteller.
The boy, who is in his second year of kindergarten at EtonHouse International School, is the youngest author of a bilingual book – at the age of six years and 60 days when it was published on Nov 2.
He wrote the book in English, before translating it into Hindi.
Inspired by the English fairy tale Jack And The Beanstalk, Saarth’s story features giants, beanstalks and golden eggs but with a twist.
Instead of man-eating giants, his character Giant Twoe (pronounced two-ee) hopes to make new friends.
“I like the giant because he is friendly,” Saarth told The Straits Times. In his story, two friends, Yuppy and Kuppy, climb up a beanstalk to find a crying giant, Giant Twoe, and become his friends.
Back home, Yuppy and Kuppy plant the golden eggs in the ground, which turns the one beanstalk into 100, so the giant can climb down and explore their world with them.
His father, Mr Anuj Khanna Sohum, 39, said: “Saarth’s logic is that 100 is stronger than one. If the giant comes down on one beanstalk, it would break.”
Mr Anuj, an entrepreneur, said it all started when his wife, Mrs Gitanjali Sohum, a 38-year-old senior clinical psychologist, had chickenpox in July.
“I was finding ways to engage the kids. Frankly, I just wanted some peace of mind and I asked him to go to his room and stay there for about 40 minutes,” said Mr Anuj, who also has a two-year-old daughter.
When Saarth emerged from the room a while later, he had thought up the main plot, and drawn his characters on paper.
He went on to narrate his story more than 10 times to different groups of people, and his parents decided to record him talking after noticing that it was consistent every time he told it.
They helped Saarth type his story out, and arranged a meeting with local illustrator Darel Seow, 28, who agreed to work with him on illustrations.
Over 12 two-hour workshops, the pair worked on the visuals of the book, from coming up with drafts on a tablet to cutting coloured paper and colouring golden eggs.
Said Mr Seow: “I decided to use a collage effect to bring the characters to life so that Saarth could contribute to the illustrations. This is his story. It’s something he came up with.
“He’s very firm when he decides on something. So it’s really a collective effort in conceptualising and creating the images.”
Mrs Lisamarie Hughes, principal of EtonHouse Sentosa, where Saarth studies, said he has always shown interest in writing.
“He invents stories very naturally. He thinks through plots and he understands the elements of a story – the beginning, the build-up, the middle, the anticipation and the conclusion,” she said.
In fact, when asked about his award, Saarth said Giant Twoe is his second story. His first is a story about four ninja turtles he had written with three schoolmates last year.
“I like drawing and writing,” he said. “My favourite page is the one where the giant is coming down from the beanstalk because that’s my character.”
Saarth is playing Giant Twoe in a stage performance that his school is putting up on Wednesday at the book’s official launch.
About 2,200 books – half in English and half in Hindi – have been printed by Sterling New Horizons, an international publisher for children’s books. They are on sale online on Amazon globally and in Books Kinokuniya stores here at a current promotional price of $9.60. The family will give all profits from the book sales to charity.
They wrote to Guinness World Records after Saarth’s tabla teacher, Mr Nawaz Mirajkar, who holds a record of playing the tabla non-stop for 27 hours and 45 minutes in 2001, suggested they do so.
Mrs Hughes said the school will be displaying the original record certificate in its storytelling studio to inspire other children to express themselves.
Kinokuniya’s division manager, Ms Joyce Cheng, said the bookstore chain is proud to be supporting Saarth’s work.
“It remains ever so important in our society to allow our young to continue to create and imagine, and we are pleased to showcase this book at our stores.”
A version of this article first appeared on The Straits Times.
(Photo: The Straits Times)