Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Review - Tikki Tikki Tembo

Tikki Tikki Tembo

by Arlene Mosel
illustrated by Blair Lent
Date: 1968
Publisher: Square Fish
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 48
Format: e-book
Source: library

Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-
chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo!

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.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I'll spare you talk of the problematic aspects of this book (there are plenty of discussions about them online, if you're interested). I picked this book up because I have such fond memories of it from my childhood.

The story is amusingly horrifying in spots, with the adults' indifference to the children's plight spelled out for all to see. The idiot kids obviously don't learn their lesson about playing near wells after Chang falls in. When it's Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo's turn to take the plunge, you can't help but think that Child Protective Services might need to get involved with this oblivious single mother and her unruly offspring. The moral of the story turns out to be not "don't play around dangerous wells" but "don't give your kids long names just in case they fall into wells". It's rather absurd, no matter how you look at it.

I can't help but feel that this one is a little dated, though. Cultural appropriation rears its ugly head. 
Stereotypes abound. But what do you expect from a book published in 1968?

A year ago, I read another book based on the same old Japanese folktale. Pacho Nacho by Silvia López is an updated version that takes place in Mexico, that uses real Spanish nicknames to create the great moniker, and doesn't make any claims about naming tradition origins. If you're looking for something with the same silly starting point, Pacho Nacho is a much better choice for modern audiences.

Premise: 3/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 3/5

Overall: 3 out of 5

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