Inside: Did you know that Tikki Tikki Tembo can set the wrong tone for Chinese culture? Grab these children’s books about the Chinese New Year to read instead.
I’ve read Tikki Tikki Tembo to my kids so many times that we all can say his long version name. I want to suggest other books for Chinese New Year. It’s kind of a fake Chinese Folk Tale about why Chinese names are so short today.
For kids who might not have a lot of exposure to China, Chinese Americans and/or Chinese culture, it sets the wrong tone, implying that the Chinese are foolish and stupid.
Grace Lin’s blog has more:
- The book purports to be an “old Chinese folktale,” but it is not. It is actually thought to be based on a Japanese folktale called Jugemu. Presumably, that tale was picked up and retold by Westerners, who mistakenly attributed it to China and added to the story. The result is a story that is neither Japanese nor Chinese, and it exemplifies the racist attitude of, “Chinese, Japanese, what’s the difference, they’re all the same.” from Wikipedia
- Though the book’s illustrations are beautifully drawn by Caldecott Medal-winning artist Blair Lent, they do not authentically depict Chinese people, as noted by The Multiculturalist above. Tikki Tikki Tembo’s shoes are actually strikingly similar to traditional Japanese geta footwear, again reinforcing the inaccurate perception that all Asian cultures are the same.
- Tikki Tikki Tembo’s full name does not include any actual Chinese words, and it perpetuates the stereotype that Chinese words and names sound like nonsensical syllables (from Wikipedia). If anyone doubts that this stereotype continues to persist in modern society, look no further than the 2011 racist rant by a UCLA student.
- Tikki Tikki Tembo’s little brother does have a Chinese name, Chang, which, according to the book, means “little or nothing.” The book was written in 1968, well before pinyin was standardized, but even if we generously consider all tones of “chang” and “zhang,” none of the dozens of possible translations even come close to meaning “little” or “nothing.”
- According to the story, Chinese people traditionally gave their firstborn sons long and honorable names. This is not true. I tried to find a source to back up this point, but apparently, there isn’t really a good way to find evidence of what a culture is not. This Wikipedia article at least provides information on Chinese names, modern and historical, and makes no mention of first-born sons ever getting especially long names.
Chinese New Year Picture Books Instead of Tikki Tikki Tembo
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.