The death of illustrator Blair Lent earlier this week brought new attention to what's probably his best known book, Arlene Mosel's Tikki Tikki Tembo. I have fond memories of that book myself, perhaps because I was a second son with a monosyllabic name.
Many of Lent's obituaries, such as that in the New York Times, identified Tikki Tikki Tembo as a "Chinese folk tale." That's how the book identifies itself. However, a discussion on Child_Lit eleven years back, archived here, revealed that it's actually a retold Japanese tale. Ariko Kawabata wrote:
This kind of a story, of a child who has a long long absurd name, is a Japanese old folk tale. We are very much familiar with this funny story, which is made into a "Rakugo", the traditional story telling by a professional to make people laugh.Karen Ulric reported:
A different version of Tikki Tikki Tembo also appears in The Frog's Saddle Horse and Other Tales, selected by Jeanne B. Hardendorff, published in 1968. (Same year as Mosel's book). . . .The archived discussion preserves many perspectives on whether the book was (a) insensitive to Japanese culture; (b) insensitive to Chinese culture; (c) insensitive to North American readers; (d) just a joke; (e) all of the above; (f) some of the above; (g) none of the above.
This version begins "A long time ago, in old Japan..." and the name is slightly different (and even longer!): "Tikki-tikki-tembo No sa rembo Hari bari brooshki Peri pen do Hiki pon pom Nichi no miano Dom boriko"