Tikki Tikki Tembo

Surprisingly, I still remember quite a bit from kindergarten.  I remember our alphabet letter books and painting outside on easels and little boys hiding under the tables and giggling.  I remember my friend Esther inviting me over to play and describing how I would recognize her house because the back wasn’t painted.  And I remember listening to stories and songs on a little record player.  Or maybe it played stone tablets?  My dinosaur friend Edwina and I would lay on our tummies and kick our feet in the air while we listened.

One memory I have is of listening to something that had a really, really long name and loving it.  It was either Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo OR John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.  For the purposes of this story, we’re going to assume it was Tikki Tikki Tembo and thus create the impression of an even stronger personal link to this book.  It seems to be human nature to love long silly words.  The boys look at me like I’m a magical alien when I surprise them with a strategically dropped Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

A few weeks ago, Jake came home saying this name over and over from his hourly English class with Miss Dueñas.  Only he insists it’s Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-PEPI PEPI pembo.  Perhaps this is the Spanish version of the Chinese story translated to English about the little boy named Pepe and his brother Chango…  Maestra Patiño and Maestra Dueñas switch classes each day after lunch to teach English.  It seems none of the kindergartens have put two and two together and realized their teachers speak English, too.  How long before they figure it out?

In a nutshell: Tikki Tikki Tembo as retold by Arlene Mosel is a fabled Chinese fable about two little brothers.  The oldest one is purportedly given a long impressive name meaning “The Most Wonderful Thing in the Whole Wide World” as he is to inherit his parents’ beloved possessions.  His younger brother is considered some sort of back-up and is given a short name (Chang) which means “Little or Nothing” or Clueless Playmate or something.  Wiki-the-source-of-all-truth-pedia, states that the book is controversial because it may be a Japanese story told about China and does not portray Chinese culture accurately.  The Book Elf and Miss Dueñas should probably have consulted our Chinese family, Lonnie and Tyrone, on how they feel about this book.  Or given it to Devon George Tyrone Purnell and his brother Bryan to see what happens?

Wiki-the-source-of-all-truth-pedia makes no mention of controversy from the global organization of younger Siblings wHining about Rivalry Instilled by Mom & Pop or SHRIMP.

So,the boys are monkeying around and Clueless Playmate falls into the well.  Golden Boy runs to his mother and they get a ladder-wielding-tree-napping-old-man to save him named “Old Man With The Ladder.”  He pumps the boy’s leg like a water pump to revive him which must be some sort of olden time CPR.

Of course the little boys are monkeying around in the bathtub AGAIN, I mean near the well, despite the close brush with death and this time Golden Boy falls into the well.  His brother runs for help and after repeating John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt four or five times, almost passes out from exhaustion, leaving his evil mother childless.  Fortunately, Old Man With The Ladder comes to his senses and rescues Golden Boy with the same water pump CPR procedure.

And the story concludes that this is why Chinese families name their kids little, short names.

Families can talk about:  How would you feel if your name meant Little or Nothing?  Do you know what your name means?  Why is the mom so mean and dismissive of the younger brother?  Why don’t the little boys mind their mother?  Do you mind your mother?  How confident are you about that answer?  What is your game plan if you fall into a well or deep water?  What should you do?  And if you see your brother fall in?  Why do you think swimming lessons are important?  Which is more fun to say: Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo or Reginald Von Hoobie-Doobie?


Clueless Playmate and Golden Boy monkeying around as retold by Arlene Mosel and illustrated by Blair Lent.


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