Tikki Tikki Tembo

  • Title: Tikki Tikki Tembo
  • Author: Arlene Mosel
  • Illustrator: Blair Lent
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
  • Publication year: 1968
  • Brief Summary: From Scholastic: “This classic Chinese legend tells the story of a boy who nearly drowns in a well because his brother cannot pronounce his very, very long name fast enough for an old man to save him. So, as legend goes, that is why the Chinese then gave their children short names.”
  • Ideas for using this book in classroom or library – I do not think that in the year 2021 there is a need to use this book in any curriculum. I want to preface that this book was one given to me to borrow from a couple I work with who are foster parents. They receive many picture books and were happy to let me borrow some for this class. However, they, like many others were not aware of the racist overtones of this book. I had misgivings on even picking up this book but I read it critically and believe that it is unnecessary to foster this book in a library. Certainly, in a public library this would probably already be weeded. In a school library, I am not certain but would also hope that up-to-date weeding practices would remove this book from circulation. While many people since its publication have enjoyed it (see resounding support for the book on the Macmillan website) it does not change the fact there is a push presently to remove harmful stereotypes of diverse groups.
  • Whatever additional notes you’d like to add about this book and why you liked or didn’t like it. – While one could argue that Lent’s illustrations are quite remarkable, the characters do not seem to represent any particular Asian culture, not even Chinese culture as it purports to do. In fact, the characters drawn do not even really resemble Asian people and certainly represent them in a stereotypical fashion. I want to draw attention to this really informative and eye-opening blog post by illustrator Grace Lin who quotes another blogger. This piece really caused me think about the implications of this book on future generations and also how it affects Asian people. This is just one book that proves that just because a picture book is an award winner does not necessarily mean it is important or needed for now.

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