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Tikki Tikki Tembo

Book review by
Tracy Moore, Common Sense Media
Tikki Tikki Tembo Book Poster Image
Classic read-aloud has great art, mixed-up roots.

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Kids have fun chanting and repeating Tiki Tiki Tembo's name. 

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, some have criticized the book for perpetuating the stereotype that Chinese names are made up of nonsensical syllables. The book purports to be a retelling of a Chinese folktale, but it is 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 a boy with a long, important name and his brother with a shorter, less significant name who saves the day. It has some mild suspense when two boys fall down a well and await rescue, but it also has a positive message about honoring tradition while embracing change. And most kids will enjoy the chantable repetition. Editor's note: The book, which was originally published in 1968, purports to be the retelling of an old Chinese folktale, but that's not accurate. In fact, it appears to be based on a Japanese story called "Jugemu." And some critics, parents, and teachers have criticized the book as an unflattering depiction of allegedly Chinese culture.  

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What's the story?

TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO is a first son, and, as such, he was given an important -- and, as tradition would have it, very long -- name: Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo, which 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." (Note: This explanation is part of the story, but there are no actual Chines words in Tikki Tikki Tembo's name, and while Chang is a Chinese name, this isn't its meaning in Chinese.) When Tikki Tikki Tembo falls down a well and Chang must rescue him, he and others in the community soon learn that a big long, important name can get in the way.

Is it any good?

This is a visually appealing, imaginative folktale-like story that demonstrates positive sibling relationships and positive community relationships. It also powerfully shows the value of honoring traditions while being open to newer, better ways, should they prove useful. Here, kids will see not only what's in a name but also the ways in which names can propel us or hold us back.

Kids also will see other kids problem-solve with persistence and trust their own instincts when they sense the right thing to do. The vivid, dream-like line-and-wash illustrations are gorgeous and intricate. And while the repetition of Tikki Tikki Tembo's full name isn't real Chinese, kids find it fun to chant. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Tikki Tikki Tembo's full name ("Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo"). Can you remember it and say it now? 

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

  • How did you get your name? Why was it chosen for you?

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