07 February 2009

Tikki-tikki-tembo No sa rembo Hari bari brooshki Peri pen do Hiki pon pom Nichi no miano Dom boriko

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). . . .

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"
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.

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