A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
Messages of persistence, loyalty, and honoring tradition while embracing change.
Positive Role Models
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.
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Books with Asian, Asian American, and Pacific Islander Characters
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