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Tikki Tikki Tembo (1968)

by Arlene Mosel

Other authors: Blair Lent (Illustrator)

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3,6521442,484 (4.03)23
When the eldest son fell in the well and most of the time getting help was spent pronouncing the name of the one in trouble, the Chinese, according to legend, decided to give all their children short names.

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» See also 23 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 144 (next | show all)
Well now ... there's a whole lot wrong here.

The story, the basic story, is actually hilarious and the art has some wonderful elements as well. However, there's a whole history/present of white folks making fun of the names of folks from Asian cultures that makes this story uncomfortable. All the more uncomfortable because it's a retelling of a story that is, more likely than not rooted in a Japanese folktale, presented as a Chinese story and there's a whole history/present of white folks wanting to treat all Asian cultures as homogenous.

No one has to be any particular culture for this story to work. In fact, it would work for way more people if it didn't since it wouldn't expose Chinese children (and other Asian children because of point two above) to mockery. Would love to see a retelling of this retelling. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Jan 17, 2021 |
This book is a relic of a time when it was okay for white people to say anything about other cultures, regardless of accuracy, because foreigners weren't important. If Tikki Tembo isn't racist because it's just for fun, then neither is Black Sambo. It exposes Asian children in the classroom where the book is read to ridicule -- for a supposed custom that never existed. Chinese people never have had long names, and never have had different naming customs for first-born children. Nor has this story ever been a Chinese folktale.

Here's a real Chinese custom: Chang should have called his brother "Ge Ge" meaning Older Brother. There's a very strong, and as far as I know very ancient, taboo in China that forbids use of the personal name of an individual who is older or higher in rank, and while it's okay to use the name of a younger person, it's not as common as in other cultures. People call each other by titles, mostly. Mother. Father. Older Son. Younger Sister. If this were an actual Chinese folktale, the length of Tikki's name would not matter, because once the mother realized that Chang was using his honorable older brother's name, she'd punish him while Tikki was drowning (being the oblivious, cold-hearted, and protocol-obsessed person that she was).

The thing is YES, Tikki Tembo is a funny story. But when you tell a funny story about an identified group of people, and it makes assertions that are not true about those people, it's an ethnic joke, and it is not okay. There's a song we sang at camp in the 60s, with the exact same story ("Eddie Cootchee Catchakama Tosamara Tosamara Sammakama Wacky Brown / Fell into the well, fell into the well, fell into the deep dark well") and it doesn't single out one particular ethnic group for being stupid, and it's funny. That's how to do it. ( )
  muumi | Nov 15, 2020 |
Three decades and more than one million copies later children still love hearing about the boy with the long name who fell down the well. Arlene Mosel and Blair Lent's classic re-creation of an ancient Chinese folktale has hooked legions of children, teachers, and parents, who return, generation after generation, to learn about the danger of having such an honorable name as Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo.

Tikki Tikki Tembo is the winner of the 1968 Boston Globe - Horn Book Award for Picture Books.
  riselibrary_CSUC | Jul 17, 2020 |
This story is one of my favorite picture books from when I was younger. I think that the long name of Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi- pip peri pembo is funny and would be fun for children listening to the story to say the name along with the reader each time. It also tells about the interesting tale of why Chinese parents give their children short names. In addition, I think that the illustrations are appealing and extremely interesting to look at. I love the illustration where the man with the very long ladder is dreaming because it is abstract and gives an interesting look as to what he was dreaming about. ( )
  sgargi3 | Feb 17, 2020 |
If this means anything at all, I can remember the older boy's name and often say it to people. I can't say if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but the story is wonderful. ( )
  juki2222 | Dec 29, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 144 (next | show all)
I hope that people realize that "Tikki Tikki Tembo" contains very INCORRECT information about Chinese culture...What's even more disturbing is that the introduction written inside the book jacket made the story sound like a real folklore.

Below the review is a discussion of both the review and the book.

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added by MarthaJeanne | editChild_Lit, Shwu-yi Leu (Oct 2, 1998)

» Add other authors (3 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Arlene Moselprimary authorall editionscalculated
Lent, BlairIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Once, upon a time, a long, long time ago, it was the custom of all the fathers and mothers in China to give their first and honored sons great long long names.
Her second son she called Chang, which meant "little or nothing." But her first and honored son, she called Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo, which meant "the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world!"
"Unfortunate Son, surely the evil spirits have bewitched your tongue. Speak your brother's name with reverence."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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When the eldest son fell in the well and most of the time getting help was spent pronouncing the name of the one in trouble, the Chinese, according to legend, decided to give all their children short names.

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