Tikki Tikki Tembo

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Tikki Tikki Tembo Book Poster Image
Classic read-aloud has problematic portrayal of Chinese.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Parents can use this book in a teachable moment about actual vs. made-up folktales and accurate vs. inaccurate portrayals of Chinese culture and language.

Positive Messages

Messages of persistence, loyalty, and honoring tradition while embracing change.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Chang is a loyal and caring brother; his elders are strong mentors. Since the main character's name contains no actual Chinese words, the book perpetuates a stereotype that Chinese names are made up of nonsensical syllables. It misrepresents what the name Chang means. The book purports to be a retelling of a Chinese folktale, but it's not.

Violence & Scariness

Suspense when two boys fall down a well on separate occasions and must await rescue.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Tikki Tikki Tembo is a folktale-type story about an older brother with a long, important name and his younger brother with a shorter, less significant name who saves the day. There's mild suspense when two boys fall down a well and await rescue, but it there's also a positive message about honoring tradition while embracing change. And kids enjoy the chantable repetition. That said, the book, originally published in 1968, is framed as the retelling of an old Chinese folktale, but it's not. In fact, it appears to be based on a Japanese story called "Jugemu." Many have criticized the book as a stereotypical, unflattering depiction of allegedly Chinese culture.  

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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjcrmom June 1, 2020

Misrepresentation of Asian culture

This book misrepresents Chinese culture with its words and images by making a mockery of the Chinese language. There are plenty of children’s books written by A... Continue reading

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What's the story?

TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO is a first son, and, as such, he has an important -- and very long -- name: Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo, which, the book says, means "The Most Wonderful Thing in the Whole Wide World." His brother, Chang, not only has a shorter name but one that means much less: It means "little" or "nothing." (This explanation is part of the story, but there are no actual Chinese words in Tikki Tikki Tembo's name, and, while Chang is a Chinese name, the definition given isn't accurate.) When Tikki Tikki Tembo falls down a well and Chang must rescue him, Chang and others in the community soon learn that a big long, important name can get in the way.

Is it any good?

This visually appealing, folktale-like story demonstrates positive sibling and positive community relationships, but its portrayal of Chinese people, culture, and language is problematic. Kids enjoy the repetition of Tikki Tikki Tembo's full name, but it isn't real Chinese. The story does show the value of honoring traditions while being open to newer, better ways, should they prove useful.

Parents can use this story as a teachable moment about bias and stereotypes and may want to seek out genuine Chinese folktales and books that accurately portray Chinese culture, language, and perspective. To find some good choices, check out our list of Asian and Asian American Books.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the inaccurate portrayal of Chinese people and culture in Tikki Tikki Tembo. How does it demonstrate stereotyping? Why are stereotypes harmful?

  • Does your name have a special meaning? If so, what is it? 

  • How did you get your name? Are you named after anyone in your family? Do you have a shorter nickname?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and Asian stories

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