I had such high hopes for this book, which was recommended to me by a few friends and is often on "Best of" lists of children's books. So I was so disappointed to discover that, while beautifully-illustrated and no doubt well-intentioned, this book is basically racist gobbledygook. It's a hodgepodge of random "Asian-ish" ideas, images and words (and some not even remotely Asian, like Tikki's name) that appear to have been thrown together by an unthinking person who is pretty ignorant of both Chinese and Japanese cultures. It would be like opening up Strega Nona to find all the characters dressed in traditional Irish clothing, with random German names thrown in. We live in a city with many different Asian communities, so I want my son to learn about *actual* Chinese and Japanese culture and folktales -- and there are luckily now so many good books that do that! Sadly, this is not one of them. It's a shame, because the illustrations are lovely and the story & rhyming name is fun. I wish the author had just said it was some made-up land, rather than claiming this as even remotely Chinese. It's an embarrassing book that (I hope) would never be published as-is today.
I particularly liked this thoughtful essay about the book by Irene Rideout https://www.facebook.com/notes/irene-rideout/rethinking-tikki-tikki-tembo/10150659315478292
If this is a book you truly love and/or are thinking about teaching to children as an example of Chinese culture, then please consider reading this essay that may help you put it into context: http://wannabwestern.hubpages.com/hub/Tikki-Tikki-Tembo-by-Arlene-Mosel
This quote from Rideout's piece particularly resonated with me: "When I read online forumsand discussions
about the potentially offensive nature of Tikki Tikki Tembo, I am disappointed because so frequently the responses are dismissive. People say, "Oh, lighten up, it's just a fun story for kids." There is, of course, a difference between INTENT and IMPACT. I feel pretty confident in surmising that the author and illustrator of Tikki Tikki Tembo did not set out to offend anyone. In fact, the INTENT may even have been to honor the Chinese culture by sharing a charming story of their understanding of China. But the IMPACT is that an entire culture is misrepresented, and it is not unreasonable that people within the misrepresented culture might feel offended. It's understandable that some people may have happy and fond childhood memories of this book, but their positive experiences with this book does not make other people's negative experiences any less valid."
You know you have a classic on your hands when your son sees the book you're showing him and goes, "I LOVE that book! We read it in library class!" So already, I had the battle half won when I told my two kids that I received the book and CD to review. As soon as we got in the car to drive to grandma's house, they asked me to put the CD in and leaned together in the back seat with the book open between them.
MacMillan Audio has taken a classic that is over 40 years old and added new life to TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO by adding an unabridged audio book to a paperback edition. Read by the actress Marcia Gay Harden, kids and adults alike can enjoy the tongue twister of a name (that I'll proudly admit my son can rattle off in no time flat) story that many of us have grown up with.
TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO is an old Chinese folktale explaining why they have such short first names. In old times, the Chinese gave their firstborn son long names to honor them. Second sons were given hardly any name at all. Tikki Tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo is Tikki Tikki tembo's full name. His brother's name is merely Chang.
When Chang falls into a well, it's easy for Tikki Tikki tembo to relay the message to his mother and ultimately the man who rescues him. But when the roles become reversed and Tikki Tikki tembo falls into the well, poor Chang runs out of breath trying to relay the message to those that can help rescue him. It's from this event that it is told that Chinese found it wise to stick to short names, like Chang.
Ms. Harden does a wonderful job reading the story. She picks the tempo up when there is stress or drama going on. She over-emphasizes the silliness that is Tikki Tikki tembo's name. And there are many wonderful background sound effects that are employed in the story. There is the sound of running water when both boys are trying to inform their mother of each others falls into the well. There is the sound of running feet as they each try to get help. And the CD has both a read-along version as well as a storytelling version. One has a Chinese gong designating when to turn the page, the other flows uninterrupted.
Included with the set is a copy of the book. With the classic illustrations, it will be sure to bring back memories to the parents of the children who are just discovering the wonders of TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO for the first time.