Marvelous Picture Books from the Past: Tikki Tikki Tembo

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Tikki Tikki Tembo is a classic tale retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent in this 1968 story. The book follows two Chinese brothers, the second born is named Chang which, according to the book, means “little or nothing”. The first born, however, has been honored with the name Tikki tikki tembo-no so rembo-chari bari ruche-pip peri pembo, meaning “the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world”. In the story, these boys are playing near a well which their mother has warned them about. One day, Chang falls into the well and Tikki… must go get help. Since Chang’s name is short and easy to say he is able to tell his mother and the Old Man With The Ladder to help rescue Chang. Months later, the boys again play near the well and this time Tikki… falls in. Poor Chang is so out of breath from running down the mountain that he cannot say his brother’s full name. It takes him multiple attempts in order to say the entire name and by the time Tikki… is rescued he is very sick. The story ends by saying that this is the reason the Chinese have given their children shorter names as opposed to very long ones.

The illustrations in it make it feel like an old folk tale and remind me of Maurice Sendak’s work in Chicken Soup With Rice. Each page shares the same five or so colors with all the blues being one shade as well as all the greens, etc. Overall this gives the story a very basic feel which is easy to internalize.

Overall, the story flows well. One of the most enjoyable parts of the book is, in fact, just saying Tikki…’s name out loud. It has a very Dr. Seuss feel to it and rolls off the tongue very well. The actual story has enough repetition in it to make it easy for beginning readers. This element also has the effect of reinforcing the folklore feel of the story as it makes it seem more of a proverb or fable.

I clearly remember this story from when I was sitting in the library in elementary school. It was of course never the most popular book or one that everyone can pull out of memory. It is, instead, a book that many people see again years later and recognize as being fun to read and charming. I recommend it for young readers to check out of the library and have fun reading before putting it back and sharing it with someone else.

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