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Tikki Tikki Tembo

retold by Arlene Mosel
1968 / 48 pages

My full first name is Jonathan, but long ago I learned there were benefits to using a shorter form. In basketball, for example, if a teammate was streaking up the sidelines and yelled for a pass, by the time he got out all three syllables of Jona-than he wasn’t open anymore. But “Jon!” would get my attention, and him the ball, much quicker.

Tikki Tikki Tembo is about this same lesson but in a very different setting. We are told that long ago Chinese families would honor their firstborn sons with long names, and give their other sons very short names. Our story takes place in a small mountain village where a mother had two sons. The second was simply called Chang while the first was named Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo. If these two played sports we can be sure who’d be making all the great passes and who wouldn’t even make the team (try fitting that name on a jersey!).

Of course, they didn’t have basketball in ancient China, so their names come into play a different way. This is a charming book so I don’t want to give away the ending. Let it suffice to say that as in basketball, so too in aquatic events it is better, and less hazardous, to have a shorter name.

The story is wonderful, the illustrations fun, but more than anything else this is such a joy to read out loud: Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo is not only a long name, but a lyrical one, and each time it gets repeated in the story it gets funnier. This is a classic for a reason!


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