Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Great Readers Write: Tikki Tikki Tembo

As promised... here is the first in what will hopefully be a regular feature... The Great Readers Write where VKBMKL readers write in about the vintage books their kids (or they!) love. Our hostess today is Daisy B., a loyal reader from Australia who would like to quit her job and read great books full-time (ahhh, bliss...), and who also has a huge library furnished with vintage finds from the local op shops. (Good on ya!) So, without further blah blah, here she is to share one of her family favorites.Arlene Mosel ~ illustrated by Blair Lent ~ Scholastic, 1968

Tikki Tikki Tembo is set in ancient China, about a first-born son named Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo (which meant "the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world") and his little brother Chang. One day Chang falls into the well and his brother must fetch some help to get him out - all is good. However, a few months later when Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo falls into the well, when Change tries to get help from his mother and the "Old Man with the Ladder", he runs into all sorts of problems due to his brother's long name which no-one can hear or understand.

Chang ran as fast as his little legs could carry him to his mother and said, "Oh, Most Honourable Mother, Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo has fallen into the well!"
"The water roars, 'Little One', I cannot hear you."
So Chang took a deep breath...


His poor brother spends so long in the well it takes him months to get better, and this story is given as a reason Chinese names are now often so short.

This story was a favourite of mine as a child, and although I'm hard pressed to remember my phone number and have no idea of my bank account details, I have never forgotten Tikki Tembo's long name. I used to tell this story to my kids off by heart before I unearthed our old Scholastic paperback on a recent visit back home. And now my kids too can recite his very long name with glee as we read through the story. Blair Lent's Oriental-style drawings are lovely, ranging from a double page spread of the children with a huge dragon kite to the swirls of the Old Man's dream.

Reading it again as an adult, I was a little perturbed by the favouritism for the 'honoured' older child over the poor second one (according to the story, Chang means "little or nothing"!) which I hadn't remembered. It's also presented as a Chinese folktale, which it isn't. But so long as you are not using it as an example of real Chinese culture, or to support the poor unloved second child theme (and I have no problem with dissecting out ideas I don't support when reading books to my kids - hopefully this will help teach them to make up their own minds about things in future), then I promise you your kids will adore reeling off Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo's long name and, like me, will probably still remember it over 30 years later. Best of all, it's even still in print so you can easily find a copy!

5 comments:

loft2dwell said...

this is by far my most favorite kids book! My next door neighbor and I used to read it together, she could say his name in one breath. :)

Esme Raji Codell said...

What a nice pick for Chinese New Year! And I want to see Daisy B's library! Pictures, please! :-)

scribbler said...

You're right Esme! I didn't even think about it being the chinese new year when I choose to post today... yeah us!

Paula said...

Congrats to Daisy!

...and thanks for a great addition to the blog...more books for us to be introduced to.

james at 10engines said...

tough timing... http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/03/books/03lent.html?ref=books

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